Across the United States, the total number of cases of COVID-19 remains plateaued at around 65,000 new cases each day. Hospitalizations have been declining in most urban areas, but with some localities still overrun and a nationwide average of around 2,000 COVID-19 related deaths each day, there’s no sense in which the nation can now breathe freely. Texas is just one of several states, particularly in the south central U.S., where many counties are reporting that cases are up steeply over the past seven days.
Since this map ends with data from March 1, it doesn’t yet reflect any changes from Abbott’s mask-banning policies, and doesn’t indicate much about the 17 other states that have reduced mask requirements or social distancing guidelines over the past two weeks. All restrictions have been lifted in Florida. South Carolina has lifted all limits on mass gatherings, and bars and restaurants are at full capacity. Ohio is hurrying to open mass gatherings to permit “school proms, graduations, weddings, sports and other spring events.” Arizona has ordered that all public schools “must return to in-person learning” in March. Mississippi has matched Texas in banning localities from instituting mask mandates. Montana’s new Republican governor tossed the mask mandate and curfews of his Democratic predecessor. And Missouri—perhaps America’s new capital of extremism—hasn’t just lifted all restrictions and banned mask mandates, the state legislature is considering a bill to strip local health departments, mayors, or county executives of the power to do anything meaningful about future epidemics.
Still, not every state is moving in the “open wide” direction. With vaccines rolling out and the prospect that something approaching normal life is right around the corner, there are some governors and local officials out to see if they can actually make it through a few more weeks without thousands of citizens facing unnecessary illness or death. Restrictions are being extended or even tightened up in New Hampshire, and in a couple of places that might be surprising.
In Indiana, Gov. Eric Holcomb extended limits on social gatherings and school events and promised that he would not only not overrule local mask mandates, but provide $20 million to counties and cities to help them enforce those requirements. In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey extended the state’s mask mandate a few more weeks until April 9. And in West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice dropped by CNN to say, “I don’t know really what the big rush to get rid of the mask is because these masks have saved a lot, a lot of lives.”
Ivey’s extension of the mask mandate in Alabama is particularly notable, as she was one of the Republican governors who was most reluctant at the outset of the pandemic to take serious action. Since then Alabama has entered the top 10 states when it comes to deaths by population, and it appears that Ivey has learned the lesson that still evades South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. Or maybe not. Confusingly, even as she was ordering that mandate to remain in place until April 9, Ivey said this, “Let me be abundantly clear, after April 9, I will not keep the mask order in effect. While I’m convinced a mask mandate has been the right thing to do, I also respect those who object and believe this was a step too far in government overreach.” Which doesn’t seem to leave any possibility of actually checking on conditions before those masks come off.
Ivey might want to reconsider in light of one little fact. Based on the CDC’s vaccination data of each state, it’s easy to see the raw numbers of vaccines delivered and the percentage of people in each state now vaccinated. On that basis, Alabama looks … not great. With 14% of it’s population vaccinated, it’s in the lower tier of states (though still ahead of Texas). However, when checking the efficiency of each state in administering vaccines—that is, what percentage of vaccines delivered have actually gone into someone’s arm—things look a little different. By that measure, Alabama is absolutely dead last, 50th out of 50. Only 67% of vaccine delivered to the state has actually been administered as of March 1. That means that a full one-third of all doses are still literally chilling in a refrigerator, or have been discarded.
Compare this to states like New Mexico, which exceeds 90% when it comes to turning vaccine received into vaccine administered. A whole cluster of states—North Dakota, Minnesota, Massachusetts—are right behind, all of them having vaccine administration rates over 85%. Unfortunately, Alabama also has company at the other end of the scale. Georgia, Delaware, and Arkansas have all managed to get less than 70% of their vaccine into humans.
However, none of them are quite so bad as Alabama. So before Ivey lifts that mask mandate, she might want to make sure she’s checking the numbers on vaccine administered, and not just vaccine delivered.
And when Congress gets done looking at Jan. 6, it might be worthwhile to sit down a few officials to talk about just how and where some of these states are delivering vaccines. For example, on Tuesday came the word that Missouri Gov. Mike Parson flooded a small rural county with so much vaccine that the majority of it went unused. That county just happened to be one of the top three in terms of voting for Parson in the last election. But Parson may be far from the worst when it comes to targeting vaccine delivery.
As the Miami Herald reports, residents of one of the swankiest retirement communities in the Florida Keys had their vaccine needs fully met in January, just weeks after the vaccines became available, and well ahead of nursing homes and hospital workers in other parts of the state. The Ocean Reef Club is chock full of wealthy donors to Gov. Ron DeSantis, but one big check in particular stands out—a $250,000 shot in DeSantis’ arm from former Republican governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, who happens to own a home in Ocean Reef. That may seem impressive, but it’s just part of an extremely suspicious pattern.
Since DeSantis started using the state’s vaccine initiative to steer special pop-up vaccinations to select communities, his political committee has raised $2.7 million in the month of February alone, more than any other month since he first ran for governor in 2018, records show.
Trump actually developed no plan for vaccine distribution, and instead left how vaccine got to people up to each state. Biden, unfortunately, inherited that system and has been unable to do much about what’s happening at the state level beside simply pumping in more vaccine. But if officials like DeSantis are trading vaccine for campaign dollars, and cheating other communities in the process, that’s nothing short of a crime.
But here’s the good news. Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker is now reporting that the United States has for the first time moved above 2 million doses of vaccine a day for a solid week. After a slow and unsteady start, Biden’s team is actually delivering vaccines at an increasing rate, so much so that all American adults can expect to have an opportunity to be vaccinated by the end of May.