Ky. was more successful than most adjoining states at avoiding both Covid-19 deaths and pandemic-related unemployment

Forward Kentucky table; for an interactive version with sortable columns, click here.

By John Schaaf

Republished from Forward Kentucky

As the U.S. marks one year of the Covid-19 pandemic, Kentucky and the other 49 states have experienced relentless arguments about the best way to deal with the virus: “Implement no restrictions and let people decide for themselves” vs. “Implement restrictions to help people protect themselves and others.”

The result of these competing positions is a national landscape of confusion, as each state developed its own approach and had different levels of success. Some states have a lower rate of Covid deaths or a lower rise in unemployment rates, but few states succeed in both.

According to year-long measurements, Kentucky was more successful than its seven adjoining states in keeping its rate of Covid deaths lower while also holding down its unemployment-rate increase.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, about 5,000 Kentuckians have died from the virus, or 111 per 100,000 residents, according to information compiled by The New York Times from state and local health officials.

From pre-pandemic December 2019 to high-pandemic December 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says Kentucky’s unemployment rate rose from 4.3 percent to 6 percent, up 1.7 percent.

Indiana’s unemployment increase was .6 percent lower than Kentucky’s, but the Hoosier State’s death rate in the pandemic is 189 per 100,000. If Kentucky had Indiana’s death rate, our state would have lost about 3,510 more lives to Covid-19.

Likewise, unemployment in Ohio (up 1.4 percent) and West Virginia (up 1.2 percent) increased less than in Kentucky, but Covid deaths in Ohio have occurred at 150 per 100,000 and in West Virginia at 130 per 100,000, both considerably higher than in Kentucky. At Ohio’s rate, 1,755 more Kentuckians would be dead.

Three of our adjoining states have fared worse by both the death and unemployment measures. Illinois ranks close to Indiana in deaths at 182 per 100,000, and the state’s unemployment increase (3.9 percent) is more than twice Kentucky’s increase in the same year.

Likewise, Tennessee’s COVID death rate is 168 per 100,000 and unemployment increased 3.1 percent since the pandemic started. Missouri’s death rate is 140 per 100,000, while the state’s unemployment rate increased by 2.4 percent, so both states’ numbers are significantly worse than Kentucky’s.

Virginia is the only one of our neighboring states with both numbers close to Kentucky’s levels. With a death rate that’s a bit higher than Kentucky’s (112 per 100,000), Virginia has experienced a 2.2 percent increase in unemployment, one-half percent more than Kentucky.

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