The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Media Play Partisan Games with COVID-Vaccination Stats

Healthcare workers prepare Pfizer coronavirus vaccinations in Los Angeles, Calif., January 7, 2021. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

On the menu today, probably nothing you expected this morning: three cheers for West Virginia, the AP misleads readers into thinking the Deep South is uniquely challenged in vaccinating people against COVID-19, more than I ever thought I would write about “lizard people,” a depressing change in inauguration plans, and a vote of confidence in the man stepping into a position of leadership during these troubled times.

How the AP Misleads Readers on States and Vaccination Rates

The Associated Press headline: “In coronavirus vaccine drive, Deep South falls behind.”

The tenth paragraph of the article: “Overall, experts say it’s too early in the vaccine rollout to draw conclusions about the region’s shortcomings, and they can’t easily be attributed to a particular factor or trend.”

The article focuses on Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina. I won’t spend a lot time defending those states, because by the numbers those states aren’t doing a good job. But lumping them together doesn’t give a particularly accurate picture.

If you use the measuring stick of Bloomberg’s percentage of allocated doses used, Alabama ranks last of the 50 states and Georgia ranks 48th. But Mississippi ranks 30th and South Carolina ranks 29th — slightly below the middle of the pack. Nothing to brag about, but not notably bad, or warranting national scorn.

By the measurement of doses used, other states in other parts of the country are comparably bad. The country’s most populated state and the one we’re constantly reminded would be the world’s fifth-largest economy all by itself, California, ranks 49th.  As I noted yesterday, my home state of Virginia is fourth from the bottom, and on the current pace, will have every adult in the state vaccinated by the summer of 2023. Alaska, Idaho, and Hawaii are only a little bit ahead of those at the bottom.

But let’s say that for some reason, you don’t like the measuring stick of “how many allocated doses have been administered so far.” Let’s say you prefer measuring vaccinations per 100,000 residents, as the CDC does. Yes, Alabama ranks dead last, at 1,882 vaccinations per 100,000 residents, the only one below 2,000. But Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina are in the 2,000 to 3,000 range, along with eleven other states — including California, Washington State, Wisconsin, New Jersey. Not good, but not particularly bad, and there’s no particular geographic, political, economic, or cultural factor across those states.

And the states at the top of the Bloomberg list, as of this writing, are West Virginia, North Dakota, South Dakota, Rhode Island, Louisiana, the District of Columbia, and Connecticut, who have all used more than half of their allocated vaccines so far. (The Bloomberg chart updates as the states report new data, and some states are quicker to update their numbers than others, so there’s a little bit of movement day-to-day. What you won’t see is a state near the bottom of the list jumping to the top overnight.)

By the CDC measurement, West Virginia is again at the top, having vaccinated 6,621 per 100,000 residents. South Dakota is at 6,136, Alaska is at 5,823, North Dakota is at 5,613, Washington D.C. is at 5,167.

This AP report includes one particularly misleading sentence: “Other states have still managed — at their best — to get the vaccines into the arms of more than 5 percent of their populations.” Yes, the four best states –West Virginia, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota — reached that threshold above 5 percent, along with the District of Columbia.

Most states are in the range of 2 percent to 4 percent of residents vaccinated. Alabama is at 1.8 percent, Georgia is at 2.1 percent, Mississippi is at 2.4 percent, and South Carolina is at 2.2 percent. Again, that’s not great, but not all that far from California’s 2.4 percent, Wisconsin’s 2.5 percent, or Virginia’s 2.5 percent.

I can hear people arguing that the states doing best are small-population ones, but remember, this is measuring vaccinations per 100,000 residents, meaning it is proportional to population. States with more people received more doses and have more doctors, nurses, and a larger health-care infrastructure. (Also remember that for the CDC-approved vaccinations approved so far, people need two doses, and the CDC and some states break down their data into people who have received one and people who have received both vaccinations. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m focusing on those who have received one vaccination, since that number is much larger and we’re only a month into the vaccination process.)

All pandemic long, we’ve seen particular corners of the media try to shoehorn the data about state responses and caseloads into a simple, political Goofus-and-Gallant story of good and wise blue-state governors and foolish and reckless red-state governors. (Polimath does deep dives into the data and writes an excellent newsletter on this subject, and I fear he’s going to get taken away in a straitjacket if the media coverage of the topic gets any less accurate and worse.)

The real world is messy and doesn’t nicely and neatly align with preexisting ideological or political preferences. There is no guarantee that a governor with a “D” or an “R” after his name will do a better or worse job than the governor of a neighboring state of a different party. Viruses don’t care about state lines, and millions of Americans cross state lines every day. It is long past time to stop seeing the pandemic as an opportunity to prove “my party is better” and start seeing it as a major, still-worsening crisis — 3,915 dead yesterday! — that requires us to look hard at what’s working and what’s not, and almost as importantly, not to care or spend time arguing about who gets the credit.

I don’t care if you love West Virginia or hate it. I don’t care whether the state makes you think of John Denver, the Greenbrier, and Harper’s Ferry or whether it makes you think of senator Robert Byrd, The Mothman Prophecies, and Geno Smith. Right now, West Virginia is doing a bang-up job of getting its residents vaccinated, and just about every other state should be looking over that state’s collective shoulder and asking, “Hey, what are they doing right that we ought to be doing, too?”

In Other News, Related to Lizard People . . .

The sort of news that is all too easily overlooked in the chaotic start to the new year: The Nashville bomber apparently believed in “lizard people.”

A man who knew Christmas bomber Anthony Warner got a disturbing surprise in his mailbox on New Year’s Day when he received a package from the bomber.

The non-descript package was postmarked December 23rd, two days before investigators say Warner killed himself in the bombing.

Sources tell NewsChannel 5 Investigates that Warner mailed similar packages to other individuals.

The package, which contained at least nine typed pages and two Samsung thumb drives, was immediately turned over to the FBI.

The envelope does not have a return address, but the rambling pages inside left no doubt it was from Warner.

“Hey Dude,” the cover letter starts, “You will never believe what I found in the park.”

“The knowledge I have gained is immeasurable. I now understand everything, and I mean everything from who/what we really are, to what the known universe really is.”

The cover letter was signed by “Julio,” a name Warner’s friends say he often used when sending them e-mails.

A source tells NewsChannel 5 Investigates that Warner also had a dog named Julio.

The letter urged the friend to watch some internet videos he included on two Samsung thumb drives.

On another page Warner wrote about 9-11 conspiracy theories, ending with the statement “The moon landing and 9-11 have so many anomalies they are hard to count.”

Warner later wrote that “September 2011 was supposed to be the end game for the planet,” because that is when he believed that aliens and UFO’s began launching attacks on earth.

He wrote that the media was covering up those attacks.

But Warner’s writings grow even more bizarre when he wrote about reptilians and lizard people that he believed control the earth and had tweaked human DNA.

“They put a switch into the human brain so they could walk among us and appear human,” Warner wrote.

While Warner’s writings cover a variety of bizarre theories, he never mentions AT&T or anything else that appears to suggest a motive in the Nashville bombing.

Lizard people. Lizard people! We laugh about this stuff, but some folks out there really buy into it, and, at least in this case, act upon it. (These folks must have been really into the 1980s television series V, huh?)

Wait, 20,000 Troops at the Capitol, and They’re Still Rescheduling Inauguration Rehearsal?

I’m not qualified to second-guess decisions made about presidential security. But I can say that I hate the signal this sends to our enemies, foreign and domestic:

A rehearsal for Joe Biden’s inauguration scheduled for Sunday has been postponed because of security concerns, according to two people with knowledge of the decision.

After last week’s riots in Washington, security officials have locked down the Capitol complex, and the National Guard is expected to deploy more than 20,000 troops to assist with security. Top lawmakers and Homeland Security officials have been alarmed about the rising threats around the inauguration, and the FBI warned this weekend of armed protests in all 50 states.

The rehearsal is now planned for Monday, the people said.

The president-elect’s team has also canceled an Amtrak trip from Wilmington to Washington planned for Monday because of heightened security concerns.

You would like to think the 7,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen currently deployed on Capitol Hill alone would be a thorough deterrent, no?

ADDENDUM: Look, I know we’re in a dark place. These past years have been challenging, and there’s no getting around the fact that last year ranks among the very worst in our history. We’re depressed, angry and, in some cases, now just numb. We feel like a bunch of never-that-realistic promises were broken, and our warnings about the guy in charge were ignored. From the first time he stepped in front of the cameras, we saw incompetence, irresponsibility, an inability to work with others, and a personality-driven culture of dysfunction and chaos. Many of us expected this would end in disaster, but few thought it could get this bad, this fast.

But that era is over now, and new leadership is here. I have great faith in the man stepping into the job.

Welcome, Robert Saleh, the new head coach of the New York Jets.

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