Nearly two months after Texas removed its mask mandate and emergency restrictions on commerce, its COVID-19 case, hospitalization, and death counts are squarely under control. The same cannot be said of stringently-regulated Oregon.
Just a couple months ago, Oregon and Texas maintained similar COVID-19 mitigation policies. A WalletHub analysis published on March 2nd identified Oregon as the 16th most regulated state in America; Texas was ranked closeby at 18th place. Both states had mask mandates and state-imposed capacity limits for businesses.
However, Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, quickly freed the Lone Star State from restrictive COVID-19 policies, announcing on March 2nd his intention to lift Texas’s mask mandate and capacity limits.
Moreover, Abbott established strict parameters for local COVID-19 mitigation. County regulations are only permitted if 15% of regional hospital capacity is occupied by COVID-19 patients, and counties cannot impose penalties for those who refuse to wear a mask, introduce capacity limits of less than 50%, or jail violators of COVID-19 orders.
As a result, Texas went from being the 18th most regulated state in the country to the fifth least regulated, per WalletHub’s April 6th analysis. President Joe Biden characterized Texas’s return to freedom as “a big mistake” and called scrapping masks “Neanderthal thinking.” Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical advisor, called Texas’s move “risky” and said that “when you pull back on measures of public health, invariably you’ve seen a surge back up.”
The withdrawal of Texas’s mask mandate and capacity limits took effect on March 10th. On March 2nd, when the removal of these policies were announced, there was a seven-day average of 7,259 cases a day; this number dropped to 4,909 by March 10th. The seven-day average for cases has not exceeded 4,000 since March 19th, and it clocked in at 3,193 on April 29th. This constitutes the longest period of low cases since the spring of 2020.
Hospitalizations in Texas paint an even rosier picture. There was a seven-day average of 6,543 people hospitalized with COVID-19 on March 2nd, but this number plummeted to 5,354 by March 10th and 3,372 by April 28th. Since early April, Texas hospitalizations have remained at early June 2020 levels.
Finally, the Texas death count has plummeted since Abbott lifted state restrictions. Texas reported a seven-day average of 275 deaths per day on March 2nd and 190 on March 10th. On April 29th, the average was 51—which, prior to April 2021, is the lowest point since July 7th.
Texas’s success is not a function of decreased testing. On March 2nd, Texas reported a seven-day average of 52,370 tests a day; on March 10th, 75,452; and on April 27th (the most recent date with data), 88,524. By the Thinker’s calculations, the state positivity rate has plunged from 13.9%, the seven-day average on March 2nd, to less than 3.6% on April 27th.
Unlike Texas’s Abbott, Governor Kate Brown (D., Oregon) refuses to substantially reform her state’s COVID-19 policies. Oregon still has an indoor and outdoor mask mandate (though the outside requirement applies only when a distance of six feet cannot be maintained). Furthermore, there are “strict, county-by-county thresholds for business closures or reductions in capacity when case numbers rise above certain levels,” according to the Associated Press.
Oregon consequently retains its status as the 16th most regulated state in the country. In fact, on April 29th, Governor Brown extended Oregon’s state of emergency. And state health official Michael Wood announced that the mask mandate for businesses will remain in effect indefinitely.
Oregon’s continuation of strict COVID-19 policies has not translated into better recent outcomes. The seven-day average for cases skyrocketed from 282 on March 10th to 817 on April 29th, which constitutes a return to early January levels. And the seven-day average for hospitalizations in Oregon rose from 201 on March 10th to 369 on April 29th.
Meanwhile, Oregon’s testing infrastructure has slackened since March 10th. There was a seven-day average of 16,633 tests on March 10th; the number decreased to 14,879 on April 26th. As a result, Oregon’s positivity rate crept up to an average of 5.5% on April 26th, which exceeds Texas’s April 27th number by 1.9 percentage points.
Deaths, being a lagging indicator, have yet to catch up to rising cases and hospitalizations in Oregon. Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health reports that “deaths often occur 2-8 weeks after the onset of COVID-19 symptoms.”
To recapitulate, Texas lifted state regulations and went from being one of the most tightly restricted states to one of the freest. This change in policy yielded a prolonged period with decreased cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Conversely, Oregon maintains strict restrictions and is now suffering from a surge in cases and hospitalizations. Some might cite vaccines for Texas’s recent successes vis-a-vis Oregon, but only 26% of Texans are fully vaccinated, compared to 30% of Oregonians.
* All of the COVID-19 data cited in this article comes from The New York Times’ trackers for Oregon and Texas.
What are you, a politician? You can’t just take two states, point out that one is doing worse than the other, and draw big conclusions about public health policy from that. Yes, Oregon is doing worse than Texas, and yes, Oregon is more strictly locked down than Texas. So what? If you want to draw these kinds of conclusions, you need to do it in a systematic way that takes into account the whole picture, rather than cherry-picking data. Otherwise I could tell you that California is doing much better than Florida and draw the opposite conclusion.
I made the comparison because Texas and Oregon were once very close to each other in the ranking of restrictions (the 18th and 16th most regulated, respectively). Their paths have since diverged, with Texas becoming the fifth least regulated and Oregon remaining the 16th most regulated, so it is relevant to compare outcomes.
Real-world evidence of this kind should be fatal to the unproven — and, before 2019, long-doubted — hypothesis peddled by public health authorities that mask mandates and other restrictions slow the spread of respiratory viruses. Unfortunately, public health authorities are confused and incompetent scientists. Their harsh authoritarianism comes from personal predilection, not an understanding of reality that’s any better than ours.
Interesting. Of course, there is California, the perpetual bete noire/obsession of the Right that has also had some of the strictest COVID rules. It now has the lowest COVID rates (cases, % positivity) in the country, lower than Texas. An honest review would have noted this fact. But maybe that was the point.
In the heat of its death-count surge, California canceled many of the restrictions that attracted the ire of the right. I will not draw a line between that and their decreased death count.
Good job doing this analysis! So is there ANY explanation for the uptick of cases in Oregon, which seems to go against the national trend? The neighboring Washington seems to be in the same boat.
Here is a good site with state-by-state summaries: https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/USA-TRENDS/dgkvlgkrkpb/index.html
Anyway, keep up the good work!
This is entirely speculation, but it is possible that states that have been under stringent lockdown (e.g., Michigan, Oregon, and Washington) are nowhere close to herd immunity. However, young people feel confident participating in social gatherings because of the vaccination program, even if they are not themselves vaccinated, and drive spread because they have no natural immunity.
Declan, I want to be clear here—you’re saying that Oregon’s COVID policies are less effective because less people have been infected?
“Herd immunity” in this case really just seems to mean “I’m fine with people dying.”
Where in my comment did I prescribe policy? I am speculating as to why Oregon is seeing a rise in cases.
Sounds like the issue is that people aren’t following the restrictions, and that sounds more like a result of the restrictions not being tight enough. Of course, there’s also the hypothesis that a more virulent COVID variant in the Pacific Northwest is responsible for the present rise in cases there.
Do you think that compliance with COVID guidelines is lower in the ultra-progressive Pacific Northwest than freedom-loving Texas?
Lockdowns, masking and other blanket restrictions in blue states are “herd immunity” in slow-mo. “Flatten the curve” doesn’t reduce total mortality from the virus; it only saves lives from being lost due to health system overload, which never happened in the US and will never happen now with COVID.
The alternative is “focused protection”. It means strict protection of at-risk populations while permitting social and economic freedom among those at minimal risk of morbidity and mortality (for COVID, almost everyone under age 65). The advantages are that total mortality is decreased, the virus does not circulate in the population as long, and the loss of life is due to the abandonment of basic social services associated with quarantine is reduced.
The bottom line is that the pandemic in lockdown states like Oregon is predicted to be longer & more disastrous. This was understood pre-COVID but ignored by Fauci and state-level public health bureaucrats for unclear reasons.
So like…..first of all, correlation doesn’t equal causation. You can’t really draw any kind of definite conclusion from the fact that one state lowered restrictions and cases went down and one state’s cases increased with strict restrictions, because there have been such a wide variety of approaches to regulating COVID across the country/world with varying degrees of success. You’re welcome to claim that lockdowns and mask rules don’t do anything, but there are plenty of examples where they did in fact help. For example, New Zealand has been pretty much COVID free for about a year due to strict initial lockdown (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-53274085). Just going to emphasize again that correlation does not equal causation, and there are a lot of other factor at play here–just for example, Texas was one of the first states to roll out vaccines for all adults, whereas Oregon JUST made the vaccine available at the end of April.
Yes, there are many factors to consider and policy should be guided by precaution. The harms of lockdowns are clear. The benefits are not.
There aren’t any benefits to a lockdown in name only, where no one actually stays home. However, if everyone here had been willing to–god forbid–sacrifice three weeks of non essential socializing and going out, we might have been able to control the spread a little more effectively.
That’s an authoritarian fantasy and total fiction. “Non essential” activities were suspended for a lot longer than three weeks, with the consequence that mortality was highest among “essential” occupations like grocery clerks and delivery drivers who will now also suffer the worst of the economic downturn. Meanwhile the laptop class of secluded ivory tower liberals, whose risk of disease was always negligible due to their backgrounds and access to health care, have seen their livelihoods improve.
It is a news article and I draw no conclusions.
Oregon outstrips Texas with regard to vaccinations, regardless of the metric you choose (47% of Oregonians have at least one dose, compared to 39% of Texans; 29% of Texans are fully vaccinated, compared to 33% of Oregonians). And I am not sure how relevant the New Zealand example is, given that they are a remote island nation that resorted to police-state tactics that would be ruled unconstitutional in the United States.
Maybe you didn’t explicitly make that conclusion, but it’s disingenuous to say that your article doesn’t very strongly (and unsubtle) imply it.
Why would you write an article making an argument and then claim that you didn’t make that argument as soon as someone challenges it?