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.
Declan Hurley is the Chicago Thinker’s Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. A rising third year at the University of Chicago who is studying Economics and History, Declan is also a small-business owner, the editor of FDL Review, and an active participant in the politics of his home state, North Carolina. He loves to partake in the battle over ideas, and in his free time, he likes to exercise, read, and review public-opinion polling.