While attempting to get the COVID vaccine — a task that required making numerous inquiries to numerous websites instead of just one inquiry to a central website — I took a break for an hour and became a disease data nerd. I wanted to see how Maryland has fared through the pandemic compared to neighboring states.
This wasn’t just a way of killing time between submitting applications for vaccinations, but something I’ve been curious about: Where does one of the wealthiest states in the country, with so many big brains in residence, stack up compared to West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Delaware?
There are multiple ways to answer that question, but starting with a basic measure — the number of infections relative to population — Maryland has weathered the crisis better than our bordering states. It’s not a close call.
Hang with me as I run some numbers.
In two categories tracked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — cases of the coronavirus over the last week and over the last year — Maryland appears to be best.
As of Feb. 10, we had 6,085 cases for every 100,000 residents. That sounds like a lot, but it’s better than Virginia (6,338 cases per 100,000), Pennsylvania (6,876) and West Virginia (7,028), and much better than Delaware (8,366).
Over the previous seven days, Maryland had 20.9 cases per 100,000 residents while Virginia had twice that rate at 41.2. Delaware was second-worst in the region at 35.4 cases for the week. The Pennsylvania and West Virginia rates were both in the high 20s.
There’s only one category where Maryland does not lead among the five states, and that’s the incidence of death from COVID-19. Since the pandemic arrived, we have had 123 deaths per 100,000 Marylanders. More people survived in Virginia, where the death rate stands at 81 per 100,000. The death rates in West Virginia and Delaware have been comparable to Maryland’s.
With 177 deaths per 100,000 residents, Pennsylvania has had the highest death rate in the region, according to the CDC.
There’s one more set of numbers I want to give you that makes Maryland look good: The rate at which people in these five states are testing positive for the virus. The latest data puts Maryland ahead of the pack in this category, too. As of Friday, the Johns Hopkins University tracker had Maryland’s positivity rate at 3.7%. Compare that with Virginia (12.2%) and the rest: Pennsylvania at 8.6%, Delaware at 6.3% and West Virginia at 4.6%.
What does all this mean? It might mean the big decisions about the management of schools, restaurants, businesses and public spaces through the pandemic were probably better here than in the states around us. If you’re scoring elected leaders based on the results I’ve mentioned, then Gov. Larry Hogan and the people who advised him deserve credit for getting us to this point. Local leaders in Baltimore and the counties deserve props, too.
But my hunch is that what really made the difference is this: Marylanders did not believe President Donald Trump’s rosy predictions — his lies about the coronavirus — and took the threat seriously from the start. We wore masks, maintained social distancing — what the public health professionals told us to do, and probably more so than people in the other states in the region.
The fact that Maryland has one of the best educated populations in the country is no small factor. The state’s impressive medical and educational establishments — along with the thousands of government employees and tech entrepreneurs — constitute an intellectual powerhouse we tend to take for granted.
Which gets me to the vaccine rollout. This is where Maryland has fared poorly.
The most recent numbers from the CDC show our state with the lowest rate of residents to have received one or more doses of a COVID vaccine so far. West Virginia has done the best in the region — in fact, it’s one of the tops in the nation — with 12,629 people per 100,000 residents getting vaccinated. Maryland, by contrast, had given one or more doses to only 9,318 people for every 100,000 residents over the same period. That’s not good. It’s embarrassing.
One of the reasons has got to be the system the state went with, the one that has me and thousands of other Marylanders making numerous applications to numerous websites instead of to one centralized site.
With all the big brains in this state, we could not have come up with a simpler design, a one-stop model for vaccines?
Trying to sign up continues to be a crap shoot. You hear stories about some people getting a shot — including board members of two hospitals — while others can’t, and it sounds sketchy. So you just shake your head and keep your mask on while you wait.
I understand: It’s great that we have a vaccine, but the problem is supply. We have to be patient. More doses are coming and the state will soon be opening another Super Vax location at M&T Bank Stadium, and I’m fine with that as long as there are hot dogs.
I hope we learn something from this nightmare. I hope we emerge from this mess with a willingness to make a greater investment in education, science and public health, show more respect for the big brains among us and reject stupidity in all forms.