NowThis News published a piece this week headlined, “States with GOP Governors saw higher rates of COVID-19 Cases and Deaths.”
“A new study has found that Republican-led states have had a higher rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths than those led by Democrats,” according to the NowThis post on Instagram. “Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Medical University of South Carolina found that as the pandemic progressed, governors’ party affiliation had a correlation with coronavirus infection rates and deaths.?”
Researchers from the study concluded that “[g]ubernatorial party affiliation may drive policy decisions that impact COVID-19 infections and deaths across the U.S. Future policy decisions should be guided by public health considerations rather than political ideology.”
But CNN reported that “the new study’s findings do not imply that political affiliation of a state leader was a cause of COVID-19 case or death incidence.”
While the analysis was adjusted for rurality, the study notes that “the findings could reflect the virus’s spread from urban to rural areas.”
According to the CDC, the highest total number of COVID deaths were recorded in California, Texas, Florida, and New York City, respectively – not all in Republican states, as NowThis reported.
Even using deaths per 100,000 people to contextualize the numbers, four of the top five states with the highest death rates are Democrat-run: New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. No. 5, Mississippi, is Republican-run.
NowThis doubled down, however, and tied COVID deaths directly to mask mandates.
“While in office, Pres. Donald Trump often politicized the nature of the pandemic,” NowThis wrote. “Every state that currently does not have a mask mandate, or is lifting their mandates later this month, has a Republican governor.?”
But NowThis conflated correlation and causation again, failing to provide critical context in covering these states.
NowThis did not report that those same states are some of the least densely populated in the country, including Alaska, Montana, and North Dakota. Municipalities and particular industries have maintained the mask mandates despite the lack of a statewide ban.
It also fails to distinguish between the states in which mask mandates expired and states that are actively lifting restrictions, and did not report on states whose governors recommended mask-wearing but did not specifically mandate it.