Public health experts issued more than a few warnings about the danger of gatherings over Thanksgiving and although the surge in Covid-19 cases they expected nationwide took place, it was not as high as expected in some areas, such as Wisconsin. To these areas one could add Whatcom County. In addition, one could also add Benton county, which I use as a comparison because of its many similarities and, importantly, one relevant Covid-19 difference, political orientation, which likely has contributed to the latter having far more Covid-19 cases than the former.
In looking at the effect of Thanksgiving on Whatcom County and how it fared compared to Benton County, I used data from the “Github” archive provided by the Johns Hopkins Corona Virus Resource Center for two 17-day periods. The first 17-day period represents the run-up to Thanksgiving, November 7th to 24th and the second, the post-Thanksgiving period in which the surge, if any, would occur, November 24th to December 11th. If the Thanksgiving surge occurred one expects the latter period to show a higher increase in cases than the former period. If political orientation continues to play a role, one would expect the Thanksgiving surge to be higher in Benton County.
In the 17-day run-up to Thanksgiving, Whatcom County’s Covid-19 case count increased by 30.34%, from 1,694 on November 7th to 2,208 on November 24th, a difference of 514 cases. In the 17-day post-Thanksgiving period, its case count increased by 28.35%, from 2,208 on November 24th to 2,834 on December 11th, a difference of 626 cases. So, while there was a higher case count in the latter period, it was not as high as would have been the case under a scenario where they increased by 30.34% or higher, which would have led to 2,878 or more cases by December 11th. In this sense, Whatcom County can be added to the areas where the surge was not as bad as expected.
Benton County followed a path similar to Whatcom. In the 17-day run-up to Thanksgiving, its Covid-19 case count increased by 29.15%, from 5,808 to 7,501, a difference of 1,693 cases. In the 17-day Post-Thanksgiving period, its case count increased by 27.48%, from 7,501 to 9,562, a difference of 2,061 cases. As was the case in Whatcom County, there was a higher case count in the latter period, but it was not as high as would have been the case under a scenario where they increased by 29.15% or higher, which would have led to 9,688 or more cases by December 11th. In this sense, Benton County also can be added to the areas where the surge was not as bad as expected.
With an estimated 2020 population of 228,000, Whatcom County has approximately 22,000 more people than Benton County. However, Benton County has about 3.4 times more Covid-19 cases as of December 11th, 2020: 9,562 v. 2,834. As pointed out earlier, the “Republican” political orientation of Benton County and its disdain for basic protection measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing is a likely contributor to this difference. However, the fact that Benton County is now posting lower relative increases in Covid-19 cases is a sign that these attitudes may be changing, something that might be be due to the efforts of General James Mattis, USMC Ret, - who was born in Pullman (Whitman County) and raised in Richland (Benton County) - to “de-politicize” basic public health measures. Perhaps his efforts have also led to wider acceptance of these same measures in northeastern portions of Whatcom County, which share a political orientation in common with Benton County.