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How Utah compares to other states on coronavirus cases, deaths, vaccinations and more

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski) A lone security officer walks past a map of America in the main terminal of Denver International Airport as it gets back to life with the easing of restrictions to check the spread of the new coronavirus Wednesday, May 13, 2020, in Denver.

It’s been 52 weeks since we had our first coronavirus case in the United States. And on Jan. 31, 2020, the World Health Organization first declared a public health emergency.

Since then, the toll of the pandemic on Utah, the nation, and the world has been seismic. Over 1,600 dead locally, hundreds of thousands nationally, and millions worldwide. The economy has shifted, brutally impacting many workers. People have either wisely chosen to forgo or have been restricted from doing some of the most fun things in life — travel, eating out, concerts and more.

As the vaccine release trickles out, I thought it might be a good time to see how Utah compares to the other 49 states and the District of Columbia. We’ll split it up into four categories: health, mobility, economic impact and vaccinations.

Health

Of course, the most important coronavirus statistics show how the virus has spread and impacted lives. Here’s the map of all 50 U.S. states showing three key metrics: cases per capita, deaths per capita, and tests per capita. The metrics are collected from Worldometer’s rankings.

Click the buttons below to see each of the metrics, then roll over each state to see where it ranks. States with higher numbers appear in darker shades of red.

Utah ranks 4th in the U.S. in terms of coronavirus cases per capita, surpassed only by the out-of-control situations in North Dakota and South Dakota and recent riser Rhode Island. Overall, about 10.7% of Utah’s residents have tested positive — and of course, that doesn’t account for the thousands of people, especially early in the pandemic, who got the disease and were never tested.

Looking at deaths, Utah is at the other end of the spectrum: 46th. Because Utah has the nation’s youngest population, as well as some of its lowest rates of diabetes, obesity, and heart and lung conditions, our state has not seen as many deaths as other places. Utah’s extensive, and sometimes time-consuming, process for validating whether a death occurred due to COVID-19 may also be lowering death counts compared to other states, though it’s hard to know how much this is a factor.

With such a high number of cases but low deaths, it might be tempting to say that Utah’s testing program is catching more cases than other states. In fact, Utah has a good but not great testing program, ranking 18th. This week, Utah joined the ranks of the 20 states that have completed at least one coronavirus test per resident on average — though many people have taken multiple tests, while many others have avoided the nasal swab altogether.

Unfortunately, states track hospitalizations in different ways. Some report new daily hospitalizations, some track the number of people currently in a hospital, and many states have had reporting standards change during the pandemic. With all of the inconsistencies, we are limited in the comparisons we can make, though Bloomberg tracks current hospitalizations by state — Utah ranks 35th there.

Mobility

The pandemic meant more people stayed home more often — sometimes on their own accord, sometimes because of government mandates.

Google’s Mobility Reports relies on aggregated data from Android phone users who have opted in to the location history service. We can use these daily reports to see just how frequently people have made trips away from home. The Opportunity Insights team based at Harvard collected the data and put it in an easy to use format at tracktherecovery.org, allowing us to track the average change.

States with higher stay-at-home rates appear in darker shades of purple.

Utah ranked solidly in the middle of the pack in terms of how much people stayed at home. Utahns reduced their excursions by an estimated 9.7% to rank 28th. California and Hawaii residents stayed at home the most, while people in neighboring Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming left home relatively frequently, ranking 49th-51st, respectively.

Economic impact

The virus and people staying at home did a number on the economy, impacting both spending and employment.

To measure consumer spending, the Opportunity Insights team partnered with Affinity Solutions, a company with credit and debit card spending data for a large chunk of Americans. They seasonally adjusted that spending data and then compared it to Jan. 4-30, 2020, a suitably pre-pandemic period.

To measure unemployment, we use two of the many available methods. One is the traditional way, the unemployment claims filed each week adjusted for the size of the labor force in each state.

We also look at a different employment measure which uses data from four companies: Payroll data from Intuit and Paychex, worker-level data on timesheets and earnings from Earnin, and timesheet data from Kronos. The Opportunity Insights team then combined those metrics to estimate employment rates throughout the pandemic — but the most recent data is from late October.

This second measure gives us a fuller picture of true employment, which is important because not all workers are eligible for unemployment benefits.

In this map, the green is darker where spending and employment stayed highest. Green is good.

Utah ranks 16th best in terms of consumer spending change during the pandemic, with a 5% drop during the pandemic overall. California saw a 15% drop, while a couple of states, Arkansas and Vermont, actually saw spending gains.

The employment picture is more murky. Utah ranks incredibly well in unemployment claims: No. 2 in the nation, with a small 0.44 initial unemployment claims per 100 workers per week average. But the aggregated metric from Opportunity Insights ranks Utah 28th in terms of employment, showing a 9.8% drop in employment compared to pre-pandemic metrics.

Which one is right? Well, remember that the unemployment data includes the last few months, which has seen the state take some strides forward economically. But it’s also true that Utahns have a lot of side gigs — Opportunity Insights’ metrics might pick those up, but those jobs are not always eligible for unemployment benefits.

Vaccinations

There have been hiccups and success stories reported in Utah’s vaccination process, so I thought it might be valuable to see how Utah compares to other states. This data is from The New York Times vaccine rollout tracker page, where it compiles reported data from the various state health departments.

More blue equals more vaccine.

Utah ranks 27th in terms of the percentage of residents who have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine so far, with just over 6% of Utahns inoculated. Nearly 1% of Utahns have gotten both doses, which ranks 43th.

Tracking the doses used has been a bit controversial as states say the federal stats showing their vaccine allotments don’t really match the doses that have actually arrived. Still, Utah ranks 12th in that metric, using about 60% of the vaccine it has reportedly gotten so far.

This is a rapidly changing picture, thanks to some stop-and-start reporting from the state health districts and changing distribution and manufacturing plans. What hasn’t been stop-and-start is the reporting from my Tribune colleagues about the vaccine distribution — it wasn’t an accident that the state released more data last Sunday as a result of our team’s research and questioning.

Overall, this snapshot shows Utah has missed the worst of the pandemic, avoiding the devastating high number of deaths and unemployment seen elsewhere. On the other hand, it shows that a lot of Utahns have gotten sick, perhaps lost a side job too and have limited their trips from home.

Andy Larsen is a data columnist. He is also one of The Salt Lake Tribune’s Utah Jazz beat writers. You can reach him at alarsen@sltrib.com.

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