If Florida were a country, where would it rank in fighting COVID? | Analysis
With the delta variant spreading, it’s a good time to make some COVID comparisons.
Florida as seen from space.
Florida as seen from space. [ Google Earth ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Sept. 2, 2021|Updated Sept. 2, 2021

The United States has struggled to contain COVID-19, despite a comparatively well-financed health care system and early access to the vaccine. But how do the country’s COVID numbers measure up to the rest of the world, and what might we learn from the comparison?

Starting with the basics, the World Health Organization and Johns Hopkins University track COVID cases and deaths in about 238 nations. As of Wednesday, the United States ranked 25th highest for COVID deaths per 100,000 residents since the start of the pandemic. Peru had the highest rate.

1. Peru (616 deaths/100,000)

2. Hungary (309)

3. Czechia (284)

25. United States (191)

And the U.S. had the 37th highest death rate over the last month, again ending Wednesday.

1. Georgia (31 deaths/100,000)

2. Botswana (29)

3. Tunisia (29)

37. United States (7.6)

Only so much can be gleaned by comparing the United States — with its world-leading economy — to much smaller and more impoverished countries like Peru and Botswana. Let’s look at the U.S. versus the countries with the next dozen largest economies.

The United States fares okay, but that graph doesn’t scream “American exceptionalism.” Several of the other countries have kept deaths at far lower rates. How did they do it? There’s a dose of luck, but it’s hardly a coincidence that Canada and Germany, for instance, have higher vaccination rates and lower COVID death rates than the United States. And Japan, among other countries, has been much more accepting of wearing masks and social-distancing in public spaces.

An analysis like this has its limitations. For one, not every country reports COVID numbers the same way. Some are diligent. Others don’t have the resources to confirm and record every death — India, for instance. Or they obviously cook the numbers to disguise the extend of the problem — we’re looking at you, China.

To help mitigate those differences, we grouped together Europe’s five largest economies — Germany, U.K., France, Italy and Russia. We also combined the rest of the world’s five largest economies — China, Japan, India, Brazil and Canada. To help sift out China and India’s underreporting, we excluded those two countries from a third group included on the charts below.

We then added Israel because it was quick to vaccinate much of its population, and New Zealand, which has one of the best track records of combatting COVID, though the small nation in the southwestern Pacific used strict lockdowns that likely would not have had the same success in much larger, non-island nations.

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How does the U.S. stack up? Not great.

What about over the last month, ending Wednesday? The U.S. is still ahead in a race no one wants to win.

An important observation: Israel has a high vaccination rate and enjoys a robust health care system accessible to most residents. But the delta variant has still infiltrated those defenses. People aren’t just getting the virus, they are dying from it. Science magazine recently called Israel’s rising death count a “grim warning” that vaccinations have blunted but not defeated the delta variant. It’s another example of why many Americans can expect to get a booster shot in coming weeks and months.

So far, this analysis shows that the United States is hardly the star pupil when it comes to keeping its residents safe from COVID, especially given the money and expertise the country has at its disposal. But what if Florida were a country? Based on total gross domestic product, the Sunshine State’s economy would rank in the top 20 in the world, a little smaller than Indonesia’s and about the same size as the Netherlands’.

As for COVID, Florida has some explaining to do. The state would have the highest death rate in our country comparison, no matter the time frame.

The picture gets worse for Florida when looking at just the last month.

Florida’s 22 deaths per 100,000 residents in the last month compared to 207 from the start of the pandemic doesn’t mean things are getting better. The lower number is a function of measuring deaths across only 30 days, not 19 months. Same goes for comparing the last month to last week, which wasn’t very good for Florida either.

Yikes! Time to flee to New Zealand? We’d miss the sunshine and the state’s lubricous politicians, and Kiwi-man stories couldn’t possibly hold a candle to their Florida-man equivalents.

We jest … kind of. This isn’t a theoretical analysis, nor are we looking at something that happened years ago. This crisis is ongoing. It’s not over, and is likely not even close to being over. To be blunt: Too many people are still dying from COVID, and at a much higher rate in Florida than any other place in our comparison.

The nation’s most closely watched forecasting model predicted 98,000 more COVID deaths in the United States by Dec. 1, which would bring the country’s somber tally to 730,000. That increase is the equivalent of everyone in Largo plus half of Dunedin dying in about three months. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The same forecast showed that if nearly everyone wore masks in public indoor spaces, we could cut the increase in deaths in half. And, of course, more unvaccinated people getting the jab would help, too.

The state and the country have the tools to fight the delta variant. Death may be inevitable for all of us, but death from COVID doesn’t have to be, at least not in the large numbers we’ve seen so far. We have a choice in this fight. Let’s choose wisely.

Sources and notes

This analysis used COVID tracking data from the World Health Organization, Johns Hopkins University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The population and gross domestic product figures came from the United Nations, the International Monetary Fun and the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Fact Book. Information from the Florida Department of Health was also used.

All of the COVID death rates are measured up to Wednesday, Aug. 31. The rates are cumulative, so the longer the duration of time — overall, 30-day, 7-day — the higher the rate will likely be if measured from the same point in time.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.