Sunday, April 11, 2021

Fact Check

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If Your Time is short

  • Florida’s per capita COVID case rate was 29% higher than Virginia’s over the last 12 months.
  • Florida’s COVID death rate was 28% higher than Virginia’s over the last 12 months.

Virginia could learn a lot from Florida about battling COVID-19, says Pete Snyder, a Republican gubernatorial candidate in the Old Dominion.

Snyder has been accusing Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, of hurting businesses by keeping the state under COVID restrictions. He says Northam should have followed Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who refused to order mask wearing and, in September 2020, generally lifted all restrictions.

Snyder, during a March 12 radio interview on WRVA in Richmond, recalled how DeSantis was criticized in spring 2020 for taking a reckless approach to COVID.

“Nearly a year later, there is no discernible difference between the spread and deaths of COVID in Virginia than there is in Florida,” Snyder said, adding that Virginia’s economy “is in the tank” because of Northam’s “horrendous” policies.

We fact-checked Snyder’s statement that there’s “no discernible difference” between the two states in COVID spread and deaths – a claim he also made during a Feb. 25 radio interview on WCHV in Charlottesville.

Snyder’s campaign said his information came from the “COVID Data Tracker” kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Our review of the data, however, found Florida has had significantly higher COVID case and death rates than Virginia since spring 2020.

Because Snyder used the time frame of “nearly a year,” we compared the states from the starting point of the CDC’s data on April 1, 2020 to the date of Snyder’s WRVA claim on March 12, 2021. During that span, Florida had 8,994 COVID cases per 100,000 people, and Virginia had 6,954 cases per 100,000. Florida’s per capita caseload was 29% higher than Virginia’s.

During the same span, Florida saw 150 deaths per 100,000 people, compared 117 per 100,000 in Virginia. Florida’s death rate was 28% higher than Virginia’s.

Put another way, Virginia had 593,562 COVID cases during the time span. Florida’s per capita rate would have meant an additional 173,900 cases in Virginia. Virginia had totaled 9,985 COVID deaths when Snyder made his WRVA statement. Florida’s per capita rate would have meant an additional 2,820 deaths in Virginia.

So, contrary to Snyder’s claim, Florida has seen discernibly higher COVID case and death rates than Virginia during the last 12 months.

On the day of Snyder’s statement, Virginia had the 9th lowest cumulative per capita case rate; Florida ranked 22nd among states. Virginia had the 13th lowest COVID death rate; Florida ranked 24th.

The only change to the rankings if we carry them out to this writing on March 29 is that Virginia has moved up one spot, to 8th, in per capita deaths.

More perspective

Most of the 12-month gap between the two states came in July and August 2020 when the virus raged in Florida and eased in Virginia. During the two months, Florida’s case rate was three times higher than Virginia and its death rate was nearly four times higher. Over  the other 10 months, Florida’s case and death rates were 6% higher than Virginia’s.

DeSantis lifted almost all restrictions on Sept. 25, 2020, winning praise from many conservatives, including former President Donald Trump. Since then, DeSantis has boasted that Florida has much lower COVID case rates than “locked down” states, a claim PolitiFact National rated Half True in November 2020. Social media has been rife with comparisons of Florida’s record to other states – particularly New York, the first state to be slammed by COVID.

Virginia has continued to restrict the number of people in restaurants and at public events. Although Northam is slowly easing the limits, he plans to carry them into April.

From Sept. 25 to March 12 (the day of Snyder’s statement), Florida’s COVID case rate was 10% higher than Virginia’s; it’s COVID death rate was 6% higher.

Perils of Comparisons

Although it has become politically popular to compare state COVID statistics, disease experts have told PolitiFact it offers poor guidance on whether a state should end or keep restrictions. Each state has its own demographics, climate and economy which may, at times, put it more or less at risk. For example, Florida’s warm weather made it easier for people to eat and gather outdoors during the fall and winter. The same lifting of restrictions would not have been as safe in colder states, including Virginia, where people tend to gather inside and face more risk of COVID exposure.

It’s also important to remember that states aren’t walled-off jurisdictions. During much of the pandemic, Florida has been open to tourists, which means we don’t know whether coronavirus transmission within Florida is increasing infections in other states after those tourists return home, according to Marissa Levine, a public health professor at the University of South Florida.

Our ruling

Snyder recounted criticism of DeSantis in April 2020 when the Florida governor resisted some COVID restrictions, including mandatory mask wearing. “Nearly a year later, there is no discernible difference between the spread and deaths of COVID in Virginia that there is in Florida,” Snyder said.

In fact, there are easily discernible differences between that April and March 12,2021, when Snyder made his statement. Florida’s cumulative COVID case rate was 29% higher than Virginia’s; its cumulative death rate from the virus was 28% higher.

So, we rate Snyder’s statement False.

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