The state of the pandemic in Ohio and its neighboring states

Medical staff tend to a COVID-19 patient. Courtesy of University Hospitals

As cold weather season sets in with a seeming inevitability of viral spread growing, the Midwest is bracing for its third wave of spread of COVID-19. The regional variation in this virus has been an interesting story over time, and at this particular moment, we have the opportunity to check in on states in our region and see how they’ve fared so far.

So how do Ohio and its neighbors stack up in October of 2020 in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century? Here’s a snapshot of the states using data from the COVID Tracking Project, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and of course the US Census Bureau.

Indiana: The Epicenter

Indiana is the state in the region that is most embracing the “herd immunity” approach to the virus. While the state boasted a region-low 6.4% unemployment rate in August, it has done so at the cost of public health, with a region-high 2,200 COVID cases per 100,000 people this year and 21 people in hospitals right now per 100,000 and a high death rate of 58 people per 100,000 residents. 

Kentucky: The Headscratcher

The Bluegrass State has had nearly as many cases per capita as Indiana and is exceeded in hospitalization per capita regionally only by Indiana, but has somehow been able to keep its death rate lower than any state regionally besides West Virginia. This may be because of Kentucky’s rural population or it may be because of precautions taken in nursing homes in the state. Either way, the state has kept the death rate low while keeping unemployment manageable at 7.6% in August, which means they are doing something right despite high community spread.

Michigan: The Tragedy

That state up north was the regional center of coronavirus spread and deaths in the first wave of the outbreak leading to the highest death rate in the region, with 73 of every 100,000 residents dying from COVID-19. Its economy also took the largest hit of any state in Q2 of 2020 and it has suffered high levels of unemployment for the region. On the bright side, total cases per capita have been a moderate 1,600 per 100,000 and current hospitalizations are only 10 per 100,000 residents, signaling Michigan might be turning the corner as a state during this pandemic.

Ohio: Stunningly Mediocre

As Ohio seems to always do, the state falls middle of the pack almost every way you slice it. Cases per capita, current hospitalizations per capita, deaths per capita, and Q2 GDP hit all fall in the middle of the pack regionally. The one significant sore spot for Ohio is its nearly 9% unemployment rate, which is on the higher end for the region.

Pennsylvania: The Lockdown

The Keystone State looks a lot like Michigan with very high death rates and middling case rates, but departs in two ways: one good and one bad. On the positive side, Pennsylvania has the lowest hospitalization rate right now in the region, with only 7 out of 100,000 residents hospitalized for COVID-19. On the negative side, Pennsylvania has the highest unemployment rate in the region, with its over 10% unemployment rate topping all other states in the region by almost a percentage point and a half. In this way, Pennsylvania looks like a foil to Indiana, with its low case counts and hospital load and its high unemployment rate. What it shares with Indiana, though, is its high death rate.

West Virginia: The Overachiever

West Virginia was the last state in the country to get a COVID case and still looks best in the region looking at its current resume. Its rural makeup has given it the lowest case and death rate in the region, its hospital utilization is only moderate, and its economy took the softest hit in Q2. The sore spot for West Virginia has been its unemployment rate, where it is only outpaced by Pennsylvania

These dynamics will likely change over the next few months. Will Indiana and Kentucky continue to slide? Will Michigan and Pennsylvania complete their turnaround? Will Ohio stay stubbornly mediocre and West Virginia consistently above average? We’ll have more answers in a few months, but we can only hope that this answer will come at minimal cost in lives during a virus’s favorite time of year.

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Rob Moore
Rob Moore is the principal for Scioto Analysis, a public policy analysis firm based in Columbus. Moore has worked as an analyst in the public and nonprofit sectors and has analyzed diverse issue areas such as economic development, environment, education, and public health. He holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of California Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Denison University.