Yes, the COVID mortality rate is higher in California than Florida

ANALYSIS

BY LEN CABRERA

Recently, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, critical of YouTube’s removal of the public-policy roundtable hosted by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. In the opening paragraph, Dr. Bhattacharya stated an objective, verifiable fact that many people have trouble accepting: “Yet age-adjusted mortality is lower in Florida than in locked-down California, and Florida’s public schools are almost all open, while California’s aren’t.”

The term “age-adjusted mortality” may have people thinking that Dr. Bhattacharya is just making up statistics to tell his preferred narrative. Age-adjusted mortality makes Florida look better since it has the second-highest proportion of 65+ population in the country (20.9% compared to California’s 14.7%). Regardless of that fact, California has performed worse than Florida in terms of COVID-19 deaths in every way: total deaths, deaths per capita, and age-adjusted deaths per capita.

COVID-19 deaths are reported by the CDC in the table, ”Provisional COVID-19 Death Counts by Sex, Age, and State.” As of the April 14 update (data from Jan 1, 2020, to April 10, 2021), California’s total COVID deaths were 61,908, while Florida’s deaths were 31,564.

California is a much bigger state, 39M population versus 21M for Florida, so some would argue that the higher death count is because of the population difference. Computing deaths per 100k population shows that California is still ahead of Florida: 157 to 147. Both states are actually in the bottom half of per capita deaths in the country: 27 for California and 33 for Florida (meaning that 32 states have higher per capita deaths than Florida, in spite of Florida’s relative lack of mandated COVID-19 mitigation measures and greater proportion of at-risk, 65+ individuals).

Computing the age-adjusted mortality is straightforward if you have the data. The methodology is described here by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Library of Medicine. Basically, you take the deaths per 100k population for each age group and then weight them by the age group’s percentage of the overall U.S. population.

The CDC link above gives the COVID-19 deaths by age groups. Since most (over 90%) of COVID-19 deaths are 55+ and the CDC leaves blanks for single-digit deaths in a category, it’s convenient to use a 0-54 age group, then traditional 10-year groups: 55-64, 65-74, 75-84, and 85+. The population data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau “State Population by Characteristics: 2010-2019,” using 2019 as the most recent data available. The table below shows the age group data for California and Florida:

As expected, this figure makes Florida look even better than California: Florida’s rank drops to 41, while California’s rises slightly to 23. (Also note that California’s per capita COVID-19 mortality rates are at least 33% higher in every age group and even worse in the under-65 age groups.)

Dr. Bhattacharya’s assertion is correct, but many people can’t accept it because of months of misinformation (to use YouTube’s word) from a national press that seems more interested in maintaining a state of fear rather than reporting factual news. Worse, because of their unwillingness to accept a verifiable fact, they disregard the more important part of Dr. Bhattacharya’s column: “YouTube’s action violates basic standards of scientific conduct.”

Those who disagree with Bhattacharya’s opinions about COVID-19 policy should present their case with facts or demonstrate how Dr. Bhattacharya’s facts or conclusions are incorrect. By simply censoring the policy roundtable, YouTube is actually harming the nation by silencing opposing voices. The side of SCIENCE™ is behaving more like the Inquisition.

The spreadsheet with calculations for all states can be viewed here.

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