One of the great things about the United States federalist system is that the 50 states are a laboratory for democracy. Each state does things a little differently from the others, and they can compare and contrast to find what works and what doesn’t.

So it is that I’ve devised West’s Completely Unscientific COVID Survey. After 14 months, we should be able to tell which states are doing the best job of keeping their citizens healthy while minimizing the effects of the economic lockdown.

The format is fairly simple. Each state was ranked on one of eight categories. The first two are basic: COVID cases and COVID deaths per thousand population.

Some observers think that those two categories are too basic. They don’t take into account the population density. For example, their theory is, if you live in Point Barrow, Alaska, you are less likely to be exposed to the virus than if you live in downtown New York City. Therefore, the next two categories ranked were COVID cases and deaths divided by each state’s number of people per square mile.

The fifth category is number of deaths per case. This is a measure of the health system in each state. How good are the doctors and nurses who treat COVID patients at saving their lives? Some would say that there’s more to it than medical treatment. If a governor sent COVID patients back to a nursing home, spreading the disease among the most vulnerable, that caused unnecessary deaths.

We are now said to be in the pandemic’s third wave, with variants causing more cases among the young. Is anyone still listening to our leaders? The sixth category tells us by measuring the number of new cases per 100,000 population in the seven days ending April 25.

The seventh category is the states’ vaccination rates. Some people are afraid of needles. Some people can’t be bothered. Some people don’t believe in science, at least that being promulgated by the government. And some people believe all sorts of cockamamie conspiracy theories about how the vaccine is a secret potion designed to control the population or that it will kill off everyone who receives it in five years.

I believe in science and highly doubt that Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna are conspiring to kill off thousands of people when they make billions selling drugs to those same people. As the saying goes, “Dead people don’t do drugs.” This category measures how persuasive state leaders have been in convincing people to get vaccinated.

The last category is the increase or decrease in the jobless rate from February 2020, just before the economic shutdown was imposed, and March 2021, the last month for which figures are available. It’s hard to believe that 10 states have unemployment rates that are lower now than in February 2020.

Regardless, because job losses have been a major controversy in balancing economic and health concerns, I doubled the weight of that metric compared to the others, so it counts for 22.2% of the score compared to 11.1% for each of the others.

The results find that the best states for handling the pandemic are Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. The worst are Texas, Arizona and California. Giving a letter grade of A, B, C, D or F, with the top 10 states getting As and the bottom 10 Fs, Minnesota gets a B along with neighboring Wisconsin. Iowa and the Dakotas all get C’s.

Those last three, along with Arkansas, Nebraska and Wyoming, were the least restrictive in shutting down their economies a year ago. Nebraska and Arkansas get B’s while Wyoming gets a C.

Among the five states that took the most draconian lockdown measures, New Hampshire and Hawaii get A’s. Connecticut a C, New Jersey a D and California flunks.

Politically, of the top 25 states, 13 have Republican governors and 12 are run by a Democrat. Of the bottom 25, 14 have Republican governors and 11 are run by a Democrat. The virus apparently does not care whom we elect.

We have many “mask Nazis” among us who get offended if others don’t behave as they would like. We continue to hear of people getting into arguments with store clerks or other customers because they don’t wear masks. Many masks are improperly worn or not N95 virus-proof.

I’m not one to argue with anybody. I continue to wear an N95 mask because I think it is the polite thing to do. I don’t want anyone to get the virus from me anymore than I want to get it from them.

I continue to believe that our public health officials have been flying mostly blind through this pandemic, doing the best they can, but basically stumbling along like the rest of us. However, the state rankings suggest if one is seeking best practices, northern New England is the place to look, not the southwestern U.S.

Tom West, now retired, is the former general manager of this paper. Reach him at westwords.mcr@gmail.com.

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