The COVID body count continues
Higher Mass. death rate defies simple explanation
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER touted all the ways yesterday that Massachusetts is now better prepared to deal with coronavirus than it was seven months ago. But the impressive accounting of the state’s anti-COVID armamentarium can’t answer what has emerged as the elephant in the room of pandemic statistics — the state’s “stubbornly high” coronavirus death rate.
The Globe’s Dasia Moore tries to unspool the tale in today’s paper, but the more she digs in, the more it becomes clear that experts are at a loss to offer a straightforward explanation for why the state now stands as a regional outlier when it comes to COVID deaths.
Our per capita death rate for coronavirus far outpaces that of our Northeast neighbors. In September, there were more COVID deaths in Massachusetts (392) than in New York and New Jersey combined. The Massachusetts rate of 5.69 COVID deaths per 100,000 residents was nearly six times the rate in New York (0.96) and almost three times New Jersey’s rate of 1.94 deaths per 100,000.
New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and other Northeast states have otherwise had similar experiences with the virus, writes Moore, and “epidemiologists said the numbers paint a bleak picture of the pandemic’s hold on Massachusetts.”
There are some differences in how states count deaths. New York, for example, does not report “probable” COVID deaths, but that seems unlikely to explain the differences, Moore says, since the Globe analysis included probable cases in New York City, where the bulk of the state’s deaths have occurred.
One area that researchers say bears exploring is whether the state’s grim picture compared with its neighbors is being driven by nursing home fatalities. Massachusetts has had the highest share of COVID deaths in long-term care facilities of any state — about two-thirds of the state’s deaths versus 40 percent of deaths nationally. The state’s slow response to nursing home infections was the focus of a legislative committee hearing yesterday.In the early days of the pandemic, the state devoted a lot of attention to ensuring adequate hospital capacity to deal with cases. Meanwhile, the virus was ravaging nursing homes, including the state-run Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. The best explanation of what happened was probably the sports metaphor offered by Rich Bane, whose company operates 11 Massachusetts nursing homes and two long-term care facilities. “The state was guarding the wrong man early on,” Bane said in April on the Codcast.
Six months later there are a lot more questions than clear answers as to why the virus continues to hit so hard in a state that would appear globally to be one of the places best equipped to lessen its toll.