Perhaps nothing encapsulates the state of the coronavirus pandemic better than two news items that emerged this week involving the country’s top infectious-disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci.
The first was that Fauci told The Washington Post that the country was no longer seeing a “full-blown pandemic” but, instead, was “in a transitional phase, from a deceleration of the numbers into hopefully a more controlled phase and endemicity.” It’s a tempered bit of good news, particularly given that cases are on the rise nationally. But, given Fauci’s cautious reputation, it’s an important signal.
But it’s one that should be considered in the context of that other bit of Fauci news: He was going to skip the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner this Saturday out of concern that the event could trigger a new flurry of infections. The Gridiron Dinner held in D.C. earlier this month became a superspreader event. The guest list for both events, however, has a lot of overlap, which might reduce the risk of rampant spread of the virus.
This is where we are, as the country nears its millionth recorded death from covid-19: It’s nearing an end, but hundreds of people are still dying from the disease every day.
That point about prior infections is important to consider in the moment, as well, because of new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Analysis released by the CDC on Tuesday indicates that more than half of Americans have already contracted the virus at some point — far more than the 80 million confirmed cases that The Post and other organizations have tracked using state level data. By our numbers, about 24 of every 100 Americans have contracted the virus at some point. The CDC numbers suggest the number is closer to 57 of every 100.
If we look at 10,000 Americans instead of 100, we can get a slightly more nuanced picture of the pandemic nationally. Below, you can see how many out of every 10,000 Americans alive in 2020 have been affected directly by the virus. (For this interactive, we simply assumed the rate of undetected infections was the same in every state, which is obviously not the case.)
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Those figures indicate that one out of every 336 Americans has died of covid-19, or about 3 out of every 1,000.
In many states, of course, the death toll has been higher. You can see the proportions relative to 10,000 residents on the interactive. The places that have seen the most death relative to population are Mississippi (one out of every 238 residents in 2020 have died of covid), Arizona (one out of every 240), Oklahoma (one out of every 250), Alabama (one out of every 257) and West Virginia (one out of every 262).
You may have noticed that, with the exception of Arizona, each of those states backed Donald Trump in the 2020 election. There is a loose correlation (indicated with the dotted line) between a state’s 2020 vote and the number of deaths seen relative to the state’s 2020 population. More support for Trump, more deaths.
This is the other defining component of the pandemic. Since vaccines became broadly available, deaths have been much more likely in parts of the country that voted for Trump — probably in large part because Republicans have been less likely to get vaccinated but perhaps also because Democrats have been more likely to take other steps to prevent infection. Another recent analysis estimated that nearly a quarter of U.S. deaths were preventable had those who died been vaccinated.
What’s interesting about that analysis, though, is that the unvaccinated have made up a smaller percentage of covid-19 deaths in recent months. That may be in part because the push to have Americans get booster doses stalled at the end of last year, leaving many Americans at higher risk from the virus as initial vaccination protection has waned.
Meanwhile, misinformation about the virus continues to spread. On Tuesday night, Fox News host Tucker Carlson used news about Vice President Harris having contracted the virus to disparage the utility of getting vaccinated. It’s a Catch-22: Prominent Democrats are more likely to announce that they’ve contracted the virus, in part to tout the efficacy of the vaccines in keeping them from getting sick, but bad-faith actors can use those announcements to try to undercut support for the vaccines for whatever reason.
At the outset of the pandemic in early 2020, the government’s stated worst-case expectation was that 240,000 people might succumb to the virus before it was under control. More than four times as many are now confirmed to have died.
Once again, though, we’re asked to have cautious optimism. Maybe, at last, the combination of vaccines and past infection has brought the pandemic’s end within view. The Post could have asked Fauci his thoughts at the correspondents dinner, but, you know.