Wyoming Is Not New York. Why Should their Social Distancing Measures Be the Same?

As the nation starts to roll back the social distancing measures that have dampened the spread of the COVID-19 virus, it is useful to remember that the United States is a big,  diverse country, and measures that make sense in one place might not be suitable for another. This table, supplied by reader James Young, drives home that simple message. Young expresses the incidence of COVID-19 deaths as a percentage of the incidence of deaths from influenza, a disease that Americans rarely freak out about. The variance is extraordinary — a three-to-one ratio in New York to less than one in fifty ratio in Wyoming.

Virginia is caught in that middling netherworld between the two extremes — COVID-19 deaths at 18% of influenza deaths (and counting) — which makes it more difficult to decide whether to maintain the social-distancing crackdown or to start loosening up. Here is Young’s take on the data:

Five states (CT, NJ, NY, LA, MI) have more coronavirus deaths than last year’s flu deaths. Four states (MA, RI, WA, CO) have fewer deaths than last year’s flu season, but are within 50-100% of last year’s total number of deaths.

The remaining 41 states (see chart below) have fewer  than 50% of last year’s flu deaths  and of those, 33 have less than even 1/4  as many deaths as the last “regular” flu season. Of those, 13 states have COVID deaths at less than 10% of last year’s flu deaths. Hawaii for example, had 542 flu deaths, but only 9 COVID deaths. Who’s zooming who?

Clearly, at this time and pending further developments, COVID-19 is largely a regional (Northeast) disease with a few additional large-scale outbreaks in a couple of scattered parts of the country. Yet, all states but North Dakota are in lock downs – as though they are equally afflicted by COVID-19. They are not.

It is time to judiciously open states, like the 13 states that have fewer than 10% of last year’s seasonal flu deaths.

What about states in between, such as Virginia? It’s not black and white. The argument I have advanced, and will continue to do so, is to identify lower-risk demographics (young people), lower-risk regions (rural counties), lower-risk health conditions (no co-existing conditions or immunity conferred by recovery from the disease), and lower-risk activities (walking outdoors), for whom we would create carefully tailored exemptions from the broader restrictions. Each step of the way, we would pause and observe the effects. If they prompt a rebound, we retract. If they are minimal, we move on to the next set of steps.

The epidemic is dynamic, always changing, and our information is imperfect. So is the economy, which is gathering momentum for a meltdown of its own. We we can move seek a better equilibrium of protecting lives and restoring economic activity than the one we have now.


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29 responses to “Wyoming Is Not New York. Why Should their Social Distancing Measures Be the Same?”

  1. LarrytheG Avatar

    I agree but there is more to this than density or rural vs urban.

    For instance, in the country, there may well be far less density – but the question is where do rural go to get their groceries, fuel, farm equipment, school, church?

    Does “congregation” also occur even in rural and less dense places?

    In New York – you might have 50 different restaurants in one zone – in rural – you may have one or two – but EVERYBODY who lives there STILL congregates at those places in numbers also.


    So if you’re going to have social distancing in those circumstances, would you STILL address the places where people congregate?

  2. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Measuring impact as a percent of previous flu deaths is an interesting approach. It does create a new perspective. That chart may look far different in 30 days.

    What is also clear if you are watching closely is the state “lock down” responses have not been uniform, and actually Virginia’s is not that tight. Plenty of stores are still open and functioning, we regularly get take-out. My neighborhood is still busy with repair trucks. The overreaction of a Michigan, for example, is not on display. In Pennsylvania, the liquor stores are closed but you can buy beer (??). The states remain the laboratories, this time of repression….

    It is clearly time for Virginia’s leaders to clearly state what they are looking for, what the signs are. And frankly I think people are just going to start doing what they feel safe doing, and the government doesn’t have the troops or cojones to stop them. On the front of the RTD this morning is an ad from a furniture retailer, reopening. I don’t think the Governor’s orders had shut it, but the absence of any customer traffic had. That may start coming back.

    1. Per capita would help as we don’t know which areas were hit harder in 2018. In any case Virginia is not too shabby.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    What the govt does or does not do is a bit of a false narrative because people are going to decide and yes, some of them are going to go do what they want and we’ll indeed find out if that results in increased infections but there will be a lag – a week or two before things play out.

    The other part of this is what happen when one state opens up and another does not? Are people from New York going to now flock to Florida beaches?

    My bet is that we’re going to see police on State borders… so that the “opening” is only for those who live there not “outsiders”.

    You can bet that social media is going to be ON FIRE with people telling others where they CAN go to get less rules!

  4. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    You already have police on the borders, at least they were at one time. Florida and Texas were not allowing folks from New York to enter or, if they did, they had to quarantine for 14 days.

    There are dangers in comparing COVID-19 with the flu. First of all, there is a vaccine for flu. Therefore, I get a flu shot every year. That makes it much less likely that I will catch the flu from someone who does not get a flu shot. Second, the novel coronavirus seems to be a lot more contagious than the flu. Third, there are antiviral medications for flu. Fourth, it now seems that COVID-19 can result in serious chronic conditions, even after recovery. Doctors are seeing kidney damage in COVID-19 victims. That does not happen with flu.

    All that being said, it does make sense that social distancing and economic shut downs should not be uniform across the country. Some folks in Wyoming probably go 14 days without seeing anyone other than family during normal times.

  5. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Although Jim is no longer posting the number of cases testing positive, I think it is usfeul to continue tracking positive cases in DOC. That is a confined population and much attention has been focused on such populations. Overall, DOC has done a good job in a challenging situation.

    The latest report shows a total of 80 positive cases among its confined population, with 6 of those in the hospital. That is an increase of 15 from yesterday’s report. The cumulative total also increased by 15, from 80 to 95. The biggest increase has occurred in the Harrisonburg community corrections unit. That is a minimum security, dormitory-style facility. the number of offenders in the hospital with COVID-19 has remained the same, six, for several days. 49 DOC staff have tested positive.

  6. Nancy_Naive Avatar

    People in Wyoming should be allowed to sunbathe on their beaches. Maybe in Medicine Bow they could even hug and shake hands, leave the bars and restaurants open, and live as nothing has changed. Just politely ask the one guy who gets off the bus to don a mask.

    But I would warn them, that 2 ICU beds ain’t enough, and when it arrives, they will die just like everyone else.

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: borders…

    is there a consistent national policy for the states or does each state decide so that, for instance, Florida will allow Georgia but not Virginia?

    Most state borders have a slew of non-interstate roads. Are they going to set up border patrols at each?

    re: social distancing –

    here’s the question – Is a bar in Wyoming or a Church in Wyoming substantially different than one in New York in terms of the number of people present?

    So… if you cannot attend Church in New York, but you can in Wyoming….

    If you can open a bar in Wyoming but not New York?

  8. vaconsumeradvocate Avatar

    Seems inappropriate to compare a full year of flu data with a few weeks of COVID. We are not doing sufficient testing to know for sure how many are affected. The diseases are very different, especially since many appear to carry COVID without showing symptoms – or for days before showing symptoms – and it’s very contagious. That fact makes it important to treat COVID with more seriousness than flu. Plus, we have vaccine for flu. So far, we aren’t even confident how to best treat people with COVID. Comparing it to flu just enrages those who want to criticize our decision makers and stir those who oppose having to stay at home. It doesn’t advance the cause of working together as a society to deal with this new disease.

    I’m extremely disappointed – but sadly not surprised – that what to do has become a partisan issue. There is no excuse for that. We should all avoid making it partisan – even if that means President Trump is unhappy.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      re: “… that what to do has become a partisan issue. ”

      indeed, but as you say, not exactly a shock…

    2. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      Partisan issue -sounds like CNN or WaPo aka Der Stürmer. It’s just as partisan for Cuomo to poke at Trump as it is for Trump to poke at Cuomo. I got to know New York’s Governor when he lived in McLean. He’s not as smart as the media makes him out to be.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        ha ha ha… TMT – he speaks for two hours straight – all out of his own mouth… no media – and he gets to do something like that EVERY DAY!

        so, no the media is not making him look good… it’s all on him!

        and the truth is – he blathers…. but heck…. what politician doesn’t?

        In my mind – the SMART politicians KNOW when to SHUT UP!

      2. djrippert Avatar

        You want to see partisan – how about this critique of a column from yet another disgraceful NYT writer. Packed with half-assed assumptions and intentionally misleading regarding dates this is what main stream journalism has become …


        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          You’re deflecting here. The media is partisan – granted.. but don’t tell me these protests are non-partisan… admit it, guy.

    3. djrippert Avatar

      “It doesn’t advance the cause of working together as a society to deal with this new disease.”

      This is not really a partisan divide and that statement is the crux of the issue. The difference of opinion in America is much more philosophical than partisan. Some people reasonably believe that America can’t stay shut down until there is a vaccine or herd immunity. They watch the Northam Administration fumble the ball on testing day after day and are unwilling to simply hope that our government will get its act together anytime soon. They are willing to take their chances and they want to go back to work.

      On the other side there are people who honestly think that America “working together as a society” will come up with some type of plan that is better than simply reopening in stages starting now (or in the very near future). It’s unclear what that plan might be other than a vaccine or herd immunity but hope springs eternal.

      It comes down to individual liberty vs collective decision making. As such, it is a core point of debate in political philosophy and has been for centuries.

      In America we have tended to lean heavily toward individual liberty. Nobody begrudges a person who wants to stay on voluntary quarantine the right to do that. However, people bristle at being told by “government” that they can’t decide to take their chances and go back to work ahead of a vaccine or herd immunity.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Anyone who thinks these protests are not partisan either is living in LA LA Land or they are actually involved in it themselves:

        1. djrippert Avatar

          There were protests in Tennessee where a Republican governor is maintaining the lockdown. Another swing and another miss by LarrytheG whose comments don’t make it to the Mendoza line.

        2. LarrytheG Avatar

          more BS deflection. These protests are partisan – not non-partisan.

          The two groups behind the “operation gridlock” rally in Michigan on Wednesday have ties to the Republican party and the Trump administration.

          The Michigan Freedom Fund, which said it was a co-host of the rally, has received more than $500,000 from the DeVos family, regular donors to rightwing groups.

          The other host, the Michigan Conservative Coalition, was founded by Matt Maddock, now a Republican member of the state house of representatives. The MCC also operates under the name Michigan Trump Republicans, and in January held an event featuring several members of the Trump campaign.

          “Absolutely the Michigan event was a huge inspiration and it was a huge success,” said Evie Harris, organizer of a ReOpen Maryland protest planned for the state capitol on Saturday.

          “That was the model for our event.”

          Thousands drove to the Michigan state capitol in Lansing, while the Michigan Freedom Fund purchased Facebook advertising to promote the rally. Protesters, many waving Trump campaign signs, honked their horns and chanted for Governor Gretchen Whitmer to end the stay-at-home rules.

          The protest was covered exhaustively by the rightwing media. Harris said her Facebook following grew from “700-800 people” to more than 15,000 members following the Michigan rally, inspiring her to organize “Operation Gridlock Annapolis” for Saturday.

          Harris said her group had support from some elected officials in Maryland, but declined to name them.

          While ReOpen Maryland might not have funding from rightwing advocacy groups, it appears to be linked to at least four other “reopen” organizations.

          “Government mandating sick people to stay home is called quarantine,” ReOpen Maryland said. “However, the government mandating healthy citizens to stay home, forcing businesses and churches to close is called tyranny.”

          That text is identical to text on Facebook pages calling for rallies in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Virginia. ReOpen Virginia aims to hold its own “gridlock” rally on Wednesday – again inspired by the conservative-funded Michigan event.

          Despite ReOpen Virginia billing itself as a “grassroots group of people and small business owners”, founder Kristen Lynne Hall said the idea for the protest came from the organizers of the “Lobby Day” demonstration earlier this year.

          That demonstration was organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights group that has donated tens of thousands of dollars to politicians.

          Hall, who said Candace Owens, a rightwing activist and favorite of Trump, had been in touch to discuss the event, said the president’s tweet about “liberating” Virginia was “great”.

          1. djrippert Avatar

            You live in the kind of fantasy world I expect from people who will choose to hide under their beds until a vaccine is found. Any protest in Annapolis will be a protest against Maryland’s Republican governor and his rather stringent lockdown. Maryland conservatives in general and Republicans in particular support Gov Hogan on most things. However, they generally oppose his stringent lockdown policies. Those policies were put in place entirely by Hogan. They were not voted into existence by the state legislature.

            Now, how is it partisan when Republicans protest policies unilaterally enacted by a Republican governor?

            Do you even understand what the word partisan means?

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            re:; ” You live in the kind of fantasy world I expect from people who will choose to hide under their beds until a vaccine is found. ”

            Totally wrong – you don’t know guano!

            there is a huge middle ground between opening up without delay and hiding under the bed until a vaccine comes along but that seems to be the mindset of some.

            re: ” Any protest in Annapolis will be a protest against Maryland’s Republican governor and his rather stringent lockdown. ”

            Now, how is it partisan when Republicans protest policies unilaterally enacted by a Republican governor?

            Do you even understand what the word partisan means?

            more deflection and BS. The goal is to weaken the GOP governors, force them to open and then force the Dem states to follow suit.

            and yes I DO understand “partisan” when I look at the make-up of the protestors. What world do you live in guy? It’s like you’re missing your pants and saying I have an eye issue.

            give it up guy. you’re on a bad path.

  9. “Each step of the way, we would pause and observe the effects. If they prompt a rebound, we retract. If they are minimal, we move on to the next set of steps.” And how will the State do this responsibly and safely without testing, testing, and more (free, easy-access, on-demand) testing? And contact tracing as necessary?

    1. How will the State do this without testing, testing, and more (free, easy-access, on-demand) testing?

      Simple — track hospitalizations. The entire point of mandatory social distancing is to “spread the curve” for the purpose of ensuring that hospitals don’t get overwhelmed.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        yep. but since they are lagging indicators… by the time they see that – the virus may be out of control?

        that’s a question.

      2. LarrytheG Avatar

        tracking hospitalization? Good Grief! Do you really support this?

        The hospitalizations are after-the-fact – and they don’t affect the scope and scale of the infections?

        Are you of the belief that this is nothing we can do about the infections and we just let it continue to happen and we track the hospitalizations so we know when it past peak and ramping down?

        You do not believe testing will identify infected and get them isolated before they infect others?

  10. “Each step of the way, we would pause and observe the effects. If they prompt a rebound, we retract. If they are minimal, we move on to the next set of steps.” And how will the State do this without testing, testing, and more (free, easy-access, on-demand) testing? And contact tracing as necessary?

  11. LarrytheG Avatar

    Wyoming is not as lonely as one might think:

    Rank City Population
    1 Cheyenne 63,243
    2 Casper 58,756
    3 Gillette 33,056
    4 Laramie 32,178
    5 Rock Springs 23,633
    6 Sheridan 17,825
    7 Green River 12,278
    8 Evanston 11,953
    9 Riverton 11,069
    10 Jackson 10,483

    When the National Parks like Yellowstone are open – there are herds of visitors and campers coming through Wyoming.

    Not addressed at the Federal level is whether these National Parks will re-open.

    If they do , it’s going to open up flood-gates of travelers.

    1. djrippert Avatar

      Wyoming has a population density less than 1/35th that of Virginia. In a state much larger than Virginia its largest city is approximately the size of Reston.

      Wyoming also has a higher per capita GDP than Virginia so I guess those silly Republican cowboys are doing something right.

      1. idiocracy Avatar

        I’ll bet Wyoming has fewer Federal contractors and employees than Virginia, making the GDP difference all the more astounding.

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