A Tale of 39 Counties: Re-opening Washington and Political Orientation

[Co-author of this article is Eric Tyberg, a retired IT executive and consultant residing in Lincoln, California. Originally from Falun, Wisconsin, he rose through the ranks at IBM and formed his own consulting business when IBM downsized.]

In concluding our article comparing the increase in cases between Skagit and Whatcom counties as the initial phases of re-opening take place, we noted that it appeared that higher increases in COVID-19 cases were found when they were aggregated for the 27 Republican-leaning counties than when aggregated for the 12 Democratic-leaning counties. This piece follows up on this observation.

Both our earlier piece and this one are motivated by research suggesting “…that Republicans are about three times more likely than Democrats to say their state is moving too slowly to reopen business and ease restrictions, and Democrats are more likely than Republicans to report taking preventative measures like wearing masks in public” .

We know a wide range of factors affects transmission, infection, and reporting, and we acknowledge we are not able to cover them all here. They include: testing and its accuracy; data suppression; potential “super-spreader” venues such as group quarters, e.g., assisted care centers, college dormitories, prisons, military barracks, naval vessels, and prisons; food processing plants; protest and other rallies and marches; blood type; and demographic factors including population density, rates of interaction, population age, race and ethnicity, and gender (more here). These and other variables have the capacity to produce a lot of “noise” in attempting to identify and isolate factors that affect the transmission of the COVID-19 virus.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

In the process of examining the four demographic variables just listed, we found that in spite of the “noise,” that “race/ethnicity” stands out in terms of its correlation with per capita case rates, which we operationalized as the percent of the total population in a county that is White/Non-Hispanic. Looking at the state’s 39 counties, we found there is a strong inverse relationship between the percent White/Non-Hispanic and per-capita case rates. That is, as the percent of the population that is White/Non-Hispanic increases, the per capita case rate decreases. The relationship is shown the graph at left. The model generating the (dashed) linear trendline providing the “best fit” to the data is given in the small box in the upper right of the graph. A guide to understanding this model can be found at Wikipedia.

Because of the nature of the distribution of the state’s population, one needs to use caution in looking at correlations across the state’s 39 counties: the 2019 state population is 7,546,410, but 27 of the state’s 39 counties have populations less than 100,000. King County is the largest with a 2019 population of 2,226,360, while Garfield is the smallest with a 2019 population of 2,200. However, looking at per capita case rates relative to the percent of the population that is White/non-Hispanic provides us with a means of controlling for the asymmetrical population distribution. Continuing with our analysis, however, we decided that the effect of political orientation on the increase of COVID-19 cases would best be analyzed by comparing the results of: (1) aggregating the data across the 12 Democratic-leaning counties; and (2) aggregating the data across the 27 Republican-leaning counties.

As you can see in the table below, the increases in cases since April 1st are not only far higher for the 27 counties that voted for Trump (rose-colored background), but the gap is widening. Between April 1st and May 1st, the overall increase in the 27 Trump-voting counties was 394%, by June 1st it was 887%, and as of June 10th it was 1,086%. For the 12 Clinton-voting counties (blue-colored background), the respective increases are far lower, 237%, 309%, and 324%.

Importantly, the percent of the total population that is White/non-Hispanic in the aggregate of the 12 counties carried by Clinton in 2016 is lower than found for the aggregate of the 27 counties carried by Trump. All else being equal, this difference suggests that the counties carried by Trump should have a lower rate of increase in cases, which is not the situation we see in the table.

Here, it is worthwhile to note that seven counties approved to move from phase 2 to phase 3 of the re-opening process (Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens and Wahkiakum) are all Republican-leaning counties with very small populations, each of which has a high percent that is White/Non-Hispanic (ranging from a low of 73 percent in Ferry County to a high of 93 percent in Garfield County). They also tend to be sparsely populated, very rural and isolated. In addition, they had very low or zero case counts as of April 1st (Garfield still reports no confirmed cases) and have largely remained so.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

In spite of the low case counts found in these seven Republican-leaning counties, when we look at the 28 Republican-leaning counties as a whole, they have noticeably higher case increases than the 12 Democratic-leaning counties as a whole. (see table at left) Is it because, as suggested by the research described earlier, that the former are less likely to be observant about social distancing, wearing masks, hand washing, and other pandemic containment guidelines than the 11 Democratic-leaning counties as a whole? It appears that if this were not the situation, then the latter would not be exhibiting noticeably lower increases in COVID-19 cases since April 1st than the former, even in the face of all of the factors and “noise” associated with this pandemic.

Data Sources. The COVID-19 data are from The Coronavirus Resource Center maintained by Johns Hopkins University) and are slightly different than the summary provided in the earlier article because of how we handled cases unallocated to specific counties. These differences affect neither the results nor our conclusions. The demographic data are for 2019 and taken from Small Area Demographic Estimates (SADE) by Age, Sex, Race and Hispanic Origin. Voting data are taken from Wikipedia).

About David A. Swanson

Posting Citizen Journalist • Member since Mar 31, 2020

David A. Swanson is Edward A. Dickson Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of California Riverside. He served as a member of the U. S. Census Bureau’s Scientific Advisory Committee [...]

Comments by Readers

Konrad Lau

Jun 21, 2020

I too have been following the ChiCom Flu pandemic closely.

One of the numbers highly touted in local headlines and email updates is the “number of cases” or “number of new cases”. More recently, the age range for new cases has dropped dramatically and as it has, so has the number of deaths per capita. Younger folks have a much greater chance of contracting the Covid without symptoms or recovering rapidly without dying.

As to the Democrat vs Republican comparison regarding contraction of the disease, could these numbers reflect attitudes towards life in general? Perhaps Democrats are more persuaded to remain in isolation due to their inherent faith that government has the answers to every dilemma. Could it be Conservatives are willing to take responsibility for their actions and are willing to take more risk to provide for their families?

Another point that bears consideration: All of the numerical data I have seen thus far has been grossly inaccurate, be it emanating from Washington State, the University of Washington, the World Health Organization, or the Chinese Communist Party. Just this week reports came out that Washington State will no longer include suicides, drug overdoses and homicide deaths as Covid 19 related??? Will we see a police involved shooting chalked up to the ChiCom Flu?

That leads me to ask, “What other deaths have these folks been counting as Covid related?” and “What is the motivation for our government to compile reports using these exaggerated and inaccurate data?” Perhaps drowning, chocking, heart attack and strokes are still being included?

Is that supposed to give me faith in these bureaucracies’ “facts”? Why should I believe ANYTHING these people say? Which political group is allowing themselves to be willingly fooled…again?

Ultimately, the rational for the original shelter in place orders was to prevent our healthcare facilities from becoming overloaded with patients. That goal was met. Those precautions were never meant to “save lives”. Ultimately, deaths from this disease will continue until we achieve the herd immunity. This is what will be required for humanity to continue onward.

Ultimately, having our entire population stay at home and not be productive is not a viable long-term solution to this situation.

Whenever intellectual honesty is sought and given, then we can come to sane consensus about moving forward. Right now, there is so much baloney (a scientific term) it is impossible to know what is the correct path unless one has faith and common sense.

My heart and prayers go out to those families who have lost loved ones to this infernal disease. May the spirit of healing come to you all.

Keep calm and use your head(s).

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Ryan M. Ferris

Jun 22, 2020

Yakima County farm workers made the WSWS news along with farm workers nationwide: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/06/22/farm-j22.html . Farm workers and processing plant workers are most likely suffering from a similar problem that nursing homes were and continue to suffer from today: limited or ineffective infection control protocols.  I am not sure how you solve for infection control in line processing plants and the farm fields. Keep in mind that such work is exceptionally stressful on the body’s immune system: You can’t just go take a nap or a rest. Do you think those processing plant  and farm workers are being given extra Vit C and D supplements each morning? Do you think farm worker domiciles are air conditioned with humidity control and air filtration? Do they make enough wages to have two eggs with bacon and a glass or orange juice each morning?  I pulled this WA county data below from ncov utlities[1] code as of June 22 2020. It is ranked by deaths per hundred thousand. I am just going to guess that Yakima, Benton, Franklin counties have collectively the largest numbers of immigrant farm workers working and living in difficult conditions. However, many counties in WA have farm worker populations. Note that the mean age of these counties are youthful. The death curves in these counties are not young [2][3]. This implies that workers may be suffering from and bringing home infections to aging parents and grandparents who are then dying from Covid-19.

county cases deaths pop2019 dp100K mean_age
Yakima 6357 139 255950 54.31 34.58
Benton 1497 76 201800 37.66 37.59
Franklin 1263 33 94680 34.85 30.32
King 9202 607 2226300 27.26 36.19
Snohomish 3679 164 818700 20.03 39.39
Whatcom 485 39 225300 17.31 39.71
Island 189 12 84820 14.15 48.35
Klickitat 53 3 22430 13.37 49.02
Skagit 482 15 129200 11.61 43.29
Pierce 2531 92 888300 10.36 37.54


[1] https://github.com/epiforecasts/NCoVUtils

[2] https://www.yakimacounty.us/2404/Data-Summary

[3]https://www.bfhd.wa.gov/programs_services/investigations___outbreaks/c_o_v_i_d-19/benton-_franklin_case_count

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David A. Swanson

Jun 22, 2020

And it is not as if the farm workers are unaware of their unhealthy work environments. Here is a story about striking food processing plant workers in Yakima County:

https://www.king5.com/article/news/health/coronavirus/striking-workers-and-a-strike-team-yakima-valleys-rise-in-coronavirus-cases-garners-attention/281-79e74fe0-21f2-4f37-84ca-83b4da1c147e

Adding to the misery, many of the farmworkers have no political voice. To paraphase a line in Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,”.

“Well, I called my congressman
And he said, quote:
“I’d like to help you, son
But you’re not able to vote”

Of the estimated, 229,000 undocumented people residing in Washington, 178,000 are found in the following counties, 

Benton-Franklin-Walla Walla Counties, WA, 17,000

Grant-Kittitas Counties, WA, 10,000

King County, , WA, 86,000

Pierce County, WA, 18,000

Snohomish County, WA, 25,000

Yakima County, WA , 22.000

Source: Migration Policy Institute (MPI) analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data from the pooled 2012-16 American Community Survey (ACS) and the 2008 Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), drawing on a methodology developed in consultation with James Bachmeier of Temple University and Jennifer Van Hook of The Pennsylvania State University, Population Research Institute.

https://www.migrationpolicy.org/data/unauthorized-immigrant-population/state/WA

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Ryan M. Ferris

Jun 22, 2020

What a terrible problem SARS-CoV-2 is.  What everyone would want is a single pill or drug cocktail. So you could solve Covid-19 like Strep, Bronchitis, RSV or any the other potentially deadly upper respiratory disease. But unfortunately, Covid-19 is just not that simple. We could, as a society, anticipate a ceaseless onslaught of CoronaVirus, Bird Flus, Zika, SARS, MERS and other zoonotic diseases achieving human to human transmission in waves of unending illness and economic devastation. If we could see such future projected, we would restructure our society to accomodate it: safer housing archictecture for isolation, HVAC system enhancement, novel mask development, immnulogic support treatments, rapid anti-viral and vaccination development, on sight infection control and medical professionals for “at risk” essential professions/work places, AI based system wide monitoring to detect viral signatures and perhaps clean,green energy to reduce our increasing toxic air supply. Nothing hurts the lungs and immune systems of the at risk like air pollution.

That would be an enlightened vision.  Society would then protect all its inhabitants by limiting growth and preserving some dangerous habitats (e.g. bats, pangolins,etc) for animals alone. Instead, given our brutal human history of continuous growth and expansion, we are liable to end of living in a kind of bifurcated world where the various upper classes have access to clean, virus free health solutions and the lumpen proletariat and working classes (including those that protect our health) accept high death rates and illness as a ‘side effect’ of gainful employment.  Maybe we are already living that reality now:

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/farmworkers-file-lawsuit-against-washington-state-seeking-coronavirus-protections-n1197216

https://www.businessinsider.com/washington-issues-emergency-rule-to-protect-farm-workers-from-coronavirus-2020-5

https://q13fox.com/2020/04/05/states-lack-key-data-on-coronavirus-cases-among-medical-workers/

  

 

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Konrad Lau

Jun 22, 2020

Throughout human history there has been suffering and death among the “lower classes”.

In America we see greater upward mobility for a greater number of the population than ever before. Never before have so many enjoyed so much wealth. Is everything perfect?

No…

We are continually striving to improve our planet and our lives in general; however, an old saying is true: The rising tide floats all boats.

American economics has repeatedly proven the wisdom in that saying.

 

Will there ever be a time when everyone has a safe, clean job that earns them every need or want in life?

No…regardless of what folks are taught in neo-Marxism or Socialism for a New America classes.

 

Individual citizens exercising inventive imagination, creativity and emerging technologies have, from the very beginning, dragged mankind forward.

One of my favorite examples is the comparative height of Americans as compared to virtually all other cultures. Only when the issues of ample food supplies and modern medical processes was addressed did Americans begin to grow to their full physical potential and begin living into their seventies.

Education of the masses is the key to cultivating a population of morally straight, personally responsible, reasoning individuals accepting credit (or fault) for their own actions and welfare.

Wringing our collective hands over the problems of our society does no good.

It is each person’s job to further society using realistic means that rewards success instead of punishing it.

 

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David A. Swanson

Jun 22, 2020

Konrad. Lau:

Greater upward mobiliy and never have so many enjoyed so much wealth? Where have you been living, the everglades, piney woods, Steptoe Butte, the hidden caves in Steens Mountain?

The evidence is that economic inequality reached a low point in the early 1970s and the US population has been increasing in economic inequality ever since. The wealthy get more and more and everybody else gets less and less.  A similar trend is found in other western societies (aka “the first world”). Here is one of many studies that have found this:

American exceptionalism? The growth of income and wealth inequality in the United States and other Western societies

 

https://quod.lib.umich.edu/h/humfig/11217607.0005.204/—american-exceptionalism-the-growth-of-income-and-wealth?rgn=main;view=fulltext

 

Here is another one

Socio-Economic Status and Life Expectancy in the United States, 1970-1990

https://muse.jhu.edu/article/264740/pdf

And, it you do not like reading technical articles, here is an easy-to-read summary of income inequality in the U.S. over time, with links to a myriad of articles.

A Guide to Statistics on Historical Trends in Income Inequality

https://www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/a-guide-to-statistics-on-historical-trends-in-income-inequality

You must have been socially isolating for a long period of time. You really should think about getting  out more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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David A. Swanson

Jun 22, 2020

Ryan Ferris,

DIck Conoby turned me on to this piece about the pandemic in Yakima County having spilled out of the food procesing plants and now being driven by community-based transmission. 

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/health/in-yakima-county-as-cases-soar-community-spread-increasingly-drives-the-pandemic/?utm_source=marketingcloud&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=TSA_062220174719+Cases+soar+in+Yakima+County%2c+fueled+by+people+not+taking+preventive+measures_6_22_2020&utm_term=Active%20subscriber

And as a confirmation re “community spread,”, in spite of the Florida Governor’s attenpt to pin the recent increase in cases on migrant workers, it appears  that the increase in Florida has taken a path similar to that now found in Yakima County, “.....The Governor is mistaken regarding agriculture being a primary driver of COVID-19 in Florida. Commissioner Fried has been in close, regular communication with Florida’s leading agricultural associations throughout COVID-19. There is evidence of community spread of COVID-19 in areas where farms are located, but the vast majority of farmworkers left agricultural communities several weeks ago, as harvests have ended,” Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services spokesman Franco Ripple said in a statement…”

https://www.clickorlando.com/news/local/2020/06/16/department-of-agriculture-says-gov-desantis-mistaken-about-farmworkers-increasing-floridas-coronavirus-numbers/

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Konrad Lau

Jun 23, 2020

David,

I was not referring to the last brief 100 years. I was speaking of the broader history of mankind.

Slavery and subjugation have been the norm since the dawn of time. When taken in this view, the American story is a success story. Humans’ living conditions and life expectancies have improved dramatically.

Drawing historical reference from “the seventies” is intentional ignorance beneath your intellect and that of current day propagandists.

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Scott Wicklund

Jun 27, 2020

Using the framework of “red state/blue state,” how do we account for California?  What went wrong?

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David A. Swanson

Jun 27, 2020

The unit of analysis is the county not the state Thus, The analysis for Washington is  is not red/blue as a “state” but red/blue by county. For the 33 Democratic-leaning counties in California (carried by Clinton in 2016) the total case count as of April 1st was 9,779. By June 15th the total case count had increased by 1,399%. For the 25 Republican-leaning counties (carried by Trump in 2016), the April 1st case count was 372. By June 15th, the total case count had increased by 2,393%. Like Washington, the Repubican-leaning counties in California are experiencing a substantially higher percentage  increase in  cases (and in per-capita case rates) than the Democratic-leaning counties. 

 

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David A. Swanson

Jun 27, 2020

Hr. Lau,

When the facts don’t fit the ideology, ideologists ignore the facts. If you can shed your ideological isolation and find the time to get out a bit more, you should read Leon Festinger’s work on cognitive dissonance.

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Scott Wicklund

Jun 28, 2020

Mask is not a political statement.

Moon of Alabama wraps up the situation well.  Even VP Dick Cheney says wear a mask.  A mask is a measure of intelligence as well as PPE.  Neither the Jackass or the Elephant should influence your decision to wear a mask, social distancing, wash your hands and shower after Home Depot or the grocery store.

 

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