Despite Its Much Stricter COVID-19 Policies, California's Per Capita Death Rate Is Only Slightly Lower Than Florida's

The comparison poses a puzzle for people who believe lockdowns were crucial in controlling the pandemic.


California led the country in imposing COVID-19 lockdowns last spring, and Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) kept broad restrictions in place longer than many other governors, lifted them more gradually, and repeatedly re-imposed them. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), by contrast, was widely criticized for belatedly ordering a less sweeping lockdown, lifting it too early, and allowing social, educational, and economic activity to continue with modest restrictions even as cases surged in the summer and winter. Yet California's per capita COVID-19 death rate, according to Worldometer's numbers, is just 7 percent lower than Florida's, despite Florida's substantially older population, which should have made the state more vulnerable to the disease.

That comparison presents a puzzle for people who believe broad government-imposed restrictions have played a crucial role in controlling the pandemic. A Los Angeles Times story published yesterday tries to solve the puzzle without abandoning the conviction that Newsom's strict policies were both necessary and cost-effective. The result is a hodgepodge of straw-grasping arguments that reveal how impervious that conviction is to evidence.

Florida currently ranks 27th on Worldometer's list of states with the highest numbers of COVID-19 deaths per capita, just a few notches above California. The top four states—New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts—all imposed strict controls similar to California's, as did half of the top 10 states.

In 2019, according to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, 21 percent of Floridians were 65 or older, compared to 15 percent of Californians. The median age is 42.2 in Florida, compared to 36.8 in California. Based on those differences, it was reasonable to expect a higher death toll than Florida actually has seen, since COVID-19 risk rises sharply with age.

According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the infection fatality rate for Americans who are 70 or older is something like 5.4 percent, compared to 0.5 percent for 50-to-69-year-olds, 0.02 percent for 20-to-49-year-olds, and 0.003 percent for people younger than 20. In other words, the risk for the oldest age group is 11 times the risk for the next oldest, 270 times the risk for 20-to-49-year-olds, and 1,800 times the risk for the youngest cohort.

Yet Los Angeles Times reporters Soumya Karlamanga and Rong-Gong Lin II, citing University of Florida epidemiologist Cindy Prins, write that "Florida's older population might have, perhaps counterintuitively, prevented the virus from spreading as quickly as it did in California." How so? "Young adults who socialize and mingle, either at work or in social settings, tend to spread the virus the most while older people are more cautious and stay home."

Florida, of course, is a mecca for college students on spring break, whose socializing and mingling provided ammunition for critics of DeSantis' alleged recklessness. And despite the relative timidity of elderly Americans, they account for more than four-fifths of COVID-19 deaths in the United States. Nursing homes alone account for more than a quarter of the total death toll.

Karlamanga and Lin also try to blame the weather. "The dry air in California," they suggest, gave the state a disadvantage "compared to humid Florida." While "researchers are still learning about how climate affects the coronavirus," they say, "some studies suggest that when the air is humid, virus droplets fall to the ground faster, so people are less likely to become infected."

A 2020 review of 17 studies on this subject did indeed conclude that "warm and wet climates seem to reduce the spread of COVID-19." But the authors said "the certainty of evidence was graded as low" and added that "these variables alone could not explain most of the variability in disease transmission." It is also worth noting that humidity did not seem to have much of a protective effect in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina, or Georgia, all of which have per capita COVID-19 death rates above the national average.

Karlamanga and Lin also cite "higher levels of poverty, density, [and] overcrowding" in California, which certainly could have contributed to the state's death toll. Still, if California's COVID-19 policies were as vastly superior to Florida's as the Times seems to think, you would expect to see a much bigger difference in outcomes.

The effectiveness of Newsom's crackdowns in the fall and winter is especially hard to discern. Despite its much stricter policies, California saw a bigger winter surge in newly identified infections than Florida did, and daily new cases peaked in both states (and nationwide) around the same time.

Karlamanga and Lin say "some public health experts…acknowledge that California's strict rules became less effective as exhaustion set in by late 2020." But on the face of it, there was no public health payoff at all from the lockdown Newsom imposed in early December. Even San Mateo County Health Officer Scott Morrow, a leading advocate of lockdowns last spring, was dismayed by that order, which he viewed as illogical, inconsistent, and scientifically unsupportable. "I'm not sure we know what we're doing," he confessed.

The Times does implicitly find fault with at least one aspect of California's policies. Karlamanga and Lin say Florida's "warm weather allowed people to congregate outdoors year-round, a low-risk activity." While California also has warm weather, outdoor gatherings were "banned in many parts of California for months." Citing Prins, Karlamanga and Lin say that decision "may have backfired," encouraging people to gather indoors, away from the government's prying eyes. Yet the Times also blames "weak enforcement" of California's rules, which in this case seems like a blessing.

Wall Street Journal editorial writer Allysia Finley describes Florida's relatively good ranking as "a vindication for Ron DeSantis," who did a much better job of protecting especially vulnerable residents from COVID-19 than states like New York and New Jersey while avoiding the social, economic, and psychological costs associated with prolonged and repeated lockdowns. "Employment declined by 4.6% in Florida in 2020, compared with 8% in California and 10.4% in New York," Finley notes. "Leisure and hospitality jobs fell 15% in Florida, vs. 30% in California and 39% in New York."

As these dueling interpretations show, there is only so much that can be learned by comparing two jurisdictions with starkly different COVID-19 policies. More systematic studies likewise have reached contradictory conclusions. Some researchers have concluded that lockdowns had an important impact, while others say there is little or no evidence that they affected mortality rates or trends in cases. According to a Nature Human Behaviour study of 226 countries published in November, "a suitable combination of NPIs [nonpharmaceutical interventions] is necessary to curb the spread of the virus," but "less disruptive and costly NPIs can be as effective as more intrusive, drastic ones (for example, a national lockdown)."

In a 2020 National Bureau of Economic Research paper, UCLA economist Andrew Atkeson and two other researchers looked at COVID-19 trends in 23 countries and 25 U.S. states that had seen more than 1,000 deaths from the disease by late July. After finding little evidence that variations in public policy explained the course of the epidemic in different places, they concluded that the role of legal restrictions "is likely overstated." That much seems safe to say in light of more recent experience in the United States.

NEXT: 8 and 10-Year-Old Escorted Home by Firefighters After Neighbors Report Unsupervised Kids

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  1. When Florida is being more sensible than you, you may have a Governor problem.

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  2. But we need to Follow The Science!

    1. Only when the science agrees with public employee unions.

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  3. As of 3/10 recall organizers are very close to having the 2M signatures they feel they need to guarantee the 1.5M verified signatures. Barring shenanigans the Newsom recall will be going to the voters.

    1. Cue the shenanigans.

    2. I’m guessing the media will be doing a deep dive on voter registration and signature validity on this one.

      1. Already about four times the rejection rate compared to the last election. Of course, you get better work from motivated employees – in this case, SEIU members.

    3. Will they be able to mail in the votes?

    4. if they throw out half a million signatures, isn’t that voter suppression?

      1. It would actually be “putting down an insurrection.”

        1. You joke, but the first press conference the CA democratic party gave on the recall effort actually called it the “California coup” and tried to tie the entire effort to the Jan 6 nonsense. That was panned so badly even in the left-leaning press, that they sort-of walked it back.

      2. No, that’s just Fortifying Our Democracy.

      3. That would be deliciously ironic, wouldn’t it?

    5. Just watch at least 1 million signatures get invalidated because they’re missing a second form of id verification.

    6. How much you want to bet the signature verification throws out a lot more signatures than the election last year.

  4. Looks like the L.A. Times has joined the DNC Newsletter team.

    1. That happened about 50 years ago.

  5. I read this morning’s article– closely some parts, skimmed others, and the takeaway I got was “Yeah, well, yeah ok… but it’s apples and oranges, you can’t compare them, and if… if Florida were like… more like California, then it totes would have been the zombie apocalypse had Florida not locked down… so Florida’s death count was commensurate with California’s sans lockdown and… yeah, quit being mean to Gavin Newsom, these are complex issues.”

    Essentially it seemed to be making an unwitting case for federalism.

    1. Florida has a completely different demographic since it has an outsized number of elderly retirees who have moved there from other states.

      It should have been *much* harder hit than California, even if they had used the same procedures. They didn’t. So . . .

      1. But California has much higher number (in count and by percentage) of retarded people. So it all balances out.

        1. Do they have an equivalent of Florida’s ‘Silver Alert’ for them?

          If they don’t, and they chose to implement one, what should they call it?

  6. The virus came. Some people got sick; some did not. Those that were going to die in any event, died. We moved on. Nothing we did really helped but, instead, often made things worse. We never had control, and never will.

    1. its kind of like falling out of an airplane with a parachute. You could wave your arms all you want you are still going to hit the ground.

    2. Oh did ‘we’.

      Those that were going to die in any event. You are among them. Eventually.

      ‘we’ never had control. You always had control. There is no ‘we’.

      1. “You always had control.”

        Having a choice is different than having control. I would argue, as would many other libertarians, that preserving individual choice is the preeminent objective of libertarianism — especially in those situations where one cannot control the circumstances around them. What the progressives and other statists opted for, however, was trampling upon the right of the people to choose while perpetuating the illusion that doing so would proportionally increase their control over the course of the pandemic.

        The illusion of control was, and remains, one of the biggest lies peddled by the government.

        1. The illusion of control was, and remains, one of the biggest lies peddled by the government.

          One might even suggest that the illusion of control is the point of government.

          1. Indeed.

  7. >>”some studies suggest that when the air is humid, virus droplets fall to the ground faster, so people are less likely to become infected.”

    lol fuck you

    1. Ha!

      You see? Florida had an unfair territorial advantage! Ipso facto, Newsom is still a hero … and Desantis is still just a stupid racist Repuglican that suppresses votes and exposes people to deadly floor-bound pathogens!

      1. Florida = relative humidity privilege.

    2. Given that “the experts” have said that it doesn’t spread much at all outdoors (thus rioting is okay) and all buildings in Florida are air conditioned year round, humidity is a complete nonfactor. Per Dillinger above, Karlamanga and Lin can go fuck themselves.

  8. It’s almost as if…

    every single thing said by every single government body from the start of this thing has been 100% unadulterated horseshit.

    Nah, that couldn’t be it.

  9. By the way, is everyone in Sweden dead yet?

    1. Everyone.

      1. It only looks like they aren’t because a bunch of Norwegians moved over one

        1. ’cause we’re movin on up!

      2. Except the bikini team.

    2. Only the people who were going to “die anyway”.

      1. The one ubiquitous feature of control trolls is that they always seem to have a fat pencil up their ass. I’m guessing pink hair, too. Maybe even blue.

        1. Correction: **concern trolls.

          1. Spinner is trapped by the data.

          2. Keep it up.

            “What is bad, what is alien to the ego and what is external are, to begin with, identical”

            Some guy.

            1. “Keep it up.”

              Or what? You’ll memorialize it in your trusty Notepad for later use? Get the fuck out of here.

              1. “Get the fuck out of here.”

                Keep digging.

                1. Will I find your Notepad?

  10. California’s Per Capita Death Rate Is Only Slightly Lower Than Florida’s

    For Covid, sure. But I’d bet Miami’s death rate due to dysentery and typhoid trends lower than San Francisco’s.

  11. When they recall Gavin Newscum, it would be fun if they had Trump call him to say “you’re fired”.

    1. Make it a live pay per view event.

    2. Tar and feather both of them. We could not possibly have had 2 worse leaders at the state and national level for dealing with the pandemic.

      1. Sure, and you are a real libertarian.

      2. So Trump having the guyots to call out China and getting a vaccine fast tracked (which democrats all said couldn’t be done) was ‘terrible’?

  12. The comparison poses a puzzle for people who believe lockdowns were crucial in controlling the pandemic.

    Like Sullum’s choice for President, Joe Biden.

  13. “Florida’s older population might have, perhaps counterintuitively, prevented the virus from spreading as quickly as it did in California.” How so? “Young adults who socialize and mingle, either at work or in social settings, tend to spread the virus the most while older people are more cautious and stay home.”

    I’m sorry, but do the people writing this article know any Senior Citizens? They are the most social, mingling demographic group I know of. They literally have nothing to do other than hang out, and they all congregate in Florida and do just that. Look at the Villages. It’s like Spring Break for the 65+ set year round.

    1. (I meant “the people writing the LA Times article” btw!)

    2. Wait. Whaaaat? I thought Florida’s irreverent college parties were literally acts of genocide, no? I mean, if not, and the vulnerable were staying home the whole time, safe and sound, why was CNN reporting on the beach parties in Florida like they had just obtained newly discovered footage from Dachau?

    3. These two idiots are grasping for any straws they can, and this is allegedly a news piece, not opinion.

    4. It takes impressive spin to write an article about how deadly a virus is, a virus that is quite lethal to the elderly and minimally lethal to the young and actually argue that the state that had the fifth oldest population was advantaged by such age when compared to the state with the 9th youngest state.

      1. I think word you are looking for is gall. Shamelessness may be another.

        1. Progs have no shame, yet effectively wield it as a weapon against everyone else.

          The key is to have no shame. Then tell them to fuck off. Then they lose all their power. A good back slap for their impertinence is also a nice finisher.

    5. Aren’t most serious chlamydia outbreaks among retired populations?

    6. Aren’t most serious chlamydia outbreaks among retired populations?

  14. Look who’s laughing now morthefuckers!

  15. “morthefuckers”

    “Florida Man”

    story checks out

  16. Sullum, don’t I remember you criticizing Governor DeSantis in multiple articles to the Nth degree last summer? What changed?

    1. Jan 20th.

    2. Orange Hitler lost the election so he can go back to suddenly caring about libertarian principles again now that TEAM RED BAD isn’t the most pressing priority.

      1. Lost the election is a bit vague. He definitely had fewer electoral collage votes. Whether or not those EC votes reflected the will of the people is another question all together.

        1. It’s Not Who Votes That Counts, It’s Who Counts The Votes.

    3. Dang it I’m back to day 1 I didn’t realize it was a sullum article till I read your comment

      1. It has been [00] days since your last accident.

  17. What an utterly crappy dishonest use of statistics there in that entire article Sullum.

    there’s only a couple data calcs that might help understand the difference between Florida and California. It’s probably a useful thing to try to do – but only if you have widespread antibody info that has been COLLECTED by valid sample (not invented) – and info on the actual demographics (specifically age, comorbidities) of who got the disease rather than generic info about who lives in the state. Otherwise you can’t possibly even estimate some normalized fatality rate.

    And lockdown isn’t afaik ever about directly affecting fatality rate anyway. It’s about ‘lowering the curve’ to avoid hospital overload and reducing the spread. Which is imo also a reasonable measurement of the goal – and none of which is remotely relevant to any of the data in the article.

    And keerist anyway. The only reason to set anything in the US as a data point for anything related to this pandemic is to establish a floor of ‘this is how a bunch of retarded drunken monkeys would choose to handle a pandemic if they were also given the choice of flinging poo around’

    1. Is ‘lowering the curve” anything like ‘flattening the curve?’ I can’t believe you actually went there.

      1. That is one of the only goals of ‘lockdown’. Like it or not.

        There are potentially other goals of ‘lockdown’ – what in an older time used to be called a cordon sanitaire – but those involve doing things that we in the US refused to do because we became diverted by all that poo which looked ready for flinging around.

        1. Stuff your PANIC flag up your ass, stick first, cowardly piece of lefty shit.

          1. Speaking of retarded drunken monkeys flinging poo

            1. “Speaking of retarded drunken monkeys flinging poo”

              We noticed you’d showed up, you cowardly piece of lefty shit.

        2. One of the other goals was to do it in two weeks. We’re in week 52.

      2. Is that like grading on a curve? Because Desantis comes out on top using that metric as well ….

    2. /Looks at Florida’s steady curves.

      /Looks at California’s giganto surge.

      Oh, defaulting to lockdown definitely helped do the one thing it’s supposed to be good for.

      This is the first time in living memory that a wide swath of the population made a concerted effort to follow the public health bureaucracy on something, and they ended up showing themselves to be as useless, craven and self-serving as any other. It seems to be inducing copious amounts of cognitive dissonance in all the MPHs out there.

  18. It’s kind of laughable that the obvious explanation isn’t even considered. That is, all the lockdowns, bankruptcies, lost year of schooling, government expansion, etc., didn’t do jack shit.

    1. Can’t have the plebs coming around to the realization that the government doesn’t actually do dick around here ….

  19. If the masks worked, California would have stopped the virus last summer, instead of having the most cases.
    If the infection rate is slightly lower in California compared to other states, it’s only because the virus hit here first and a lot of the early cases were never counted.

  20. If California were governed by a Republican and Florida a Democrat, I wonder what conclusion the LA times would have come to?

    1. That it’s about time for California to secede.

      1. You so willing to walk away from the state with the largest GDP per capita. An economy larger than most countries. The number one food producing state. Nice piece of real estate to just give away.

        1. I could take this opportunity to challenge your reading comprehension skills, but — quite frankly — I don’t think you would understand.

        2. Would still be a net win. Major, major win.

        3. Let them. The lower 49 catches pneumonia if we sneeze.

  21. This has been obvious for months, but way to finally show up to the party.

    1. Wow even in a “correct” article the writers shit the bed.

      Lockdowns don’t work. Masks don’t work. We were never in control of any of it. This has been obvious for months.

      Even when you’re right you manage to be terrible.

  22. We will double down next time!

  23. You know that if Florida was significantly worse than California, it would have been media talking point for months.

    It’s very telling sometimes when the media stops bothering to compare states.

    1. Like Florida vs New York State? That’s a laugh.

      1. New York did it right. Fraudci even said so.

  24. “A Los Angeles Times story published yesterday tries to solve the puzzle without abandoning the conviction that Newsom’s strict policies were both necessary and cost-effective. The result is a hodgepodge of straw-grasping arguments that reveal how impervious that conviction is to evidence.”

    So Sullum actually read my comment this morning.


    ENB hardest hit.

    1. “ENB hardest hit”

      You’ve seen her husband, no way he hits that shit hard.


  26. This an obtuse argument. California has had over 20% more tests per capita, and the Governor of Florida had a private residence rated of a former employee for being a whistle blower and not changing the data when they were asked to. DeSantis is a snake and there is no way that an external audit confirms his numbers. I am sure Newsom was overly cautious too, and that was killer for businesses.

  27. These stats based on total population aren’t very rigorous. It’s well known the death rate from the virus varies greatly by age bracket. Population breakdown by age showed California has about 2x the population of Florida in total, but around 1.3X for >65. In other words, there are a lot of young people in California. Analysis of death rates for vulnerable people such as those over 65, or even 50 and those in elder care, actually shows that Florida has generally done better than California. Death rate for >65 in California is around ~6,700/million while Florida is ~ 5,800/million.

    Info to do this analysis is easily found. I think the Times article is disingenuous and misleading.

  28. Fake statistics. The question isn’t, who had lockdowns and who didn’t. The question is, which populations complied with lockdowns and which didn’t. You’ve heard of South Korea, right? There COVID infection rate is a miniscule fraction of the U.S. Because they aren’t a bunch of libertarian simpletons.

    1. fuck yourself Tony

    2. Fortunately, even CA didn’t have authoritarian pieces of shit like Egypt Steve.
      Fuck off and die, asshole.

    3. Lmao you do realize the article cited in this article literally mentions California had both the strictest lock down and some of the strictest adherence don’t you?

      And South Korea had excellent outcomes because they blocked all international travel at a time democrats were saying to come visit Chinatown and banning flights from China was racist.

      1. They also only count deaths with major respiratory complications as a covid death, like most of Asia.

        1. Who is “they”.

          1. South Korea?

        2. Yeah not relying on faulty PCR Tests also helped.

          It’s a wonder reason never covered how the WHo guidance issued in early January, curiously timed with inauguration, to reduce the cycle threshold of the PCR Tests because they were giving a ton of false positives over 30 cycles coincides more accurately with the drop in cases than any other intervention, whether medical, govt, or natural.

    4. Should they do it for everything now to eliminate risk?

    5. Or maybe the Korean obedient mindset is why half of their peninsula has been ruled by one of the vicious dictatorships in history for decades.

      I’ll take the dumb American mindset of “fuck you I’m not wearing a mask” over dear leader Kim

    6. Seems out newest piece of authoritarian shit has not bothered has not bothered to defend the pile of lefty shit proposed.
      Could be troll; could be lefty shit who got his claims jammed up his ass.

    7. South Korea didn’t lockdown. The vast majority of their businesses were open throughout. The few massive gatherings they did ban almost certainly weren’t happening in California either (compliance with the outdoor dining ban wasn’t complete, but I’m pretty sure nobody was secretly meeting in convention centers).

      I do think figuring out why South Korea did so well will be an interesting thing to study after this is all over. My initial suspicion is that their highly aggressive contact tracing that swept up everyone even briefly in the same building vs the US’ if you spent less than 15 minutes with them, they don’t count was probably the most significant reason for the difference. The other possible reason is that their version of the CDC had already fought off the OG SARS virus, and so for sequel, they had effective masks (i.e. not a cotton mask bought off Etsy) in inventory, policies/procedures that allowed their commercial diagnostic laboratories to ramp lab-developed tests early in the pandemic with government encouragement rather than interference (in the US, lab-developed tests were banned when the health emergency was declared) and quarantine/isolation enforcement was handled in a fairly draconian fashion that ensured greater compliance.

  29. “Despite Its Much Stricter COVID-19 Policies, California’s Per Capita Death Rate Is Only Slightly Lower Than Florida’s”

    By comparison, the CA economy’s in the tank.

    1. We need some rich libertarians to start a national advertising campaign imploring homeless people to come to sunny Los Angeles where they’ll be taken care of. Crush that city under the weight of its own policies.

  30. Florida is awesome and Cali sucks. Yes we know.

  31. So the LA Times article suggests that one of the leading reasons why California’s numbers are not significantly better than Florida’s is the relative poverty rates of the two states. That is an odd flex considering this poverty disparity would have been due to differences in state policies and continuing to impose lockdowns will only make the issue worse for Californians.

    Notably, the article also completely ignored the age factor that has proven to be a larger factor in determining hospitalizations and deaths than the meager excuses that the Times uses to distract from their state’s failures. This is not science. It is more akin to dogmatic religious adherence.

  32. These people remind me of communists making excuses, right down to blaming the weather. “It’s not our fault millions starved! It was the unlucky bad weather that kept farm production low!”

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  34. I think density is the main factor. Lots of latinos in California living packed like sardines in small apartments, you know, the way the progs tell us we all should be living.

    1. Are you taking public transit today? If not, you’re killing the planet.

  35. The virus came. Some people got sick; some did not. Essentially it seemed to be making an unwitting case for federalism.

  36. Sullum conveniently ignores the vastly different demographics of Florida which should have made Florida’s death rate much, much higher than California. Sullum ignores inconvenient facts as often as necessary to signal his tribe.

  37. Kalaminga and Lin woke “journalists” are good examples of lack of critical reasoning and poor analytical /data analysis skills which are typical of “journalists.” Sad to say but they start with an ideological view and then find confirmation with “experts.” Sad but true even at Reason..

  38. When Gov. J.B. Pritzker put Illinois into lockdown, he said he would gladly throw 100,000 people out if work, if it saved just one life.

    There’s the problem. Democrats think every last life is precious and must be saved at all costs.

    Republicans are realists. If throwing 100 people out of work saved one life, then throwing 100,000 people out of work would save 1,000 lives. That is a worthwhile ratio.

    Now the family and friends of the one person who dies, if 100,000 keep working, might be angry. But the devastion of 100,000 people losing their jobs outweigh the grief suffered by the loved ones of the person who dies, if the 100,000 keep working.

    Let’s remember that the FAA has a number that is a value of a human life. When it considers issuing an order to correct a defect in commercial aircraft, the cost to the airlines for the repair, and the time frame for doing it, is weighed against the cost arising from the projected number of deaths and injuries.

    The more people who might die if the repair isn’t made, the quicker the repairs must be made.

    But, Democrats don’t like using that kind of math to make decisions.

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