Two weeks ago, I compared the course of the COVID outbreaks in Florida and California in this post, highlighting the fact that despite the media’s rhetoric about how differently the two states were addressing the pandemic, the results in the two states were very similar. Over the course of the last two weeks, that has continued to be the case.
Let’s start by looking at where the numbers were as of yesterday (May 20).
Florida is running a little ahead of California on fatalities, which should not be surprising given Florida’s older demographic. The number of cases is almost identical, with slightly more testing by California.
Early on California was doing slightly better than Florida, but more recently that has reversed and Florida is now on a slightly better trajectory than California.
The fact that the outcomes in these two states continue to track each other closely underscores two points.
First, their approaches were not starkly different. To be sure Florida took a more laissez-faire approach, but the perception of a dramatic difference between the two states was exaggerated by the media and partisans attempting to politicize COVID.
Second, and more importantly, this is another piece of a growing body of evidence that suppression tactics may have a limited impact on the spread of the virus. It increasingly appears that other factors, such as, population density, transit usage, demographics, and the characteristics of the virus itself may be more determinative of the course of the disease. Indeed, there are almost certainly many factors others we don’t even have a clue about now. For example, this just released study suggests the virus has a certain clustering characteristic that makes some kinds of social interaction far more likely to spread the virus than others.
As the severity of outbreaks has begun to subside, public officials have been quick to pat themselves on the back for their various suppression efforts. But coincidence does not prove causation. I suspect in retrospect we are likely to conclude a much more targeted effort at protecting particularly vulnerable groups, like nursing homes, would have both saved more lives and not caused the devastating collateral damage done by indiscriminate lockdowns.