The staggering American death toll from the coronavirus, now approaching 100,000, has touched every part of the country, but the losses have been especially acute along its coasts, in its major cities, across the industrial Midwest, and in New York City.
The devastation, in other words, has been disproportionately felt in blue America, which helps explain why people on opposing sides of a partisan divide that has intensified in the past two decades are thinking about the virus differently. It is not just that Democrats and Republicans disagree on how to reopen businesses, schools and the country as a whole. Beyond perception, beyond ideology, there are starkly different realities for red and blue America right now.
Democrats are far more likely to live in counties where the virus has ravaged the community, while Republicans are more likely to live in counties that have been relatively unscathed by the illness, though they are paying an economic price. Counties won by President Trump in 2016 have reported just 27 percent of the virus infections and 21 percent of the deaths — even though 45 percent of Americans live in these communities, a New York Times analysis has found.
The very real difference in death rates has helped fuel deep disagreement over the dangers of the pandemic and how the country should proceed. Right-wing media, which moved swiftly from downplaying the severity of the crisis to calling it a Democratic plot to bring down the president, has exacerbated the rift. And even as the nation’s top medical experts note the danger of easing restrictions, communities across the country are doing so, creating a patchwork of regulations, often along ideological lines.
Why has the virus slammed some parts of the country so much harder than others? Part of the answer is population density. Nearly a third of Americans live in one of the 100 most densely populated counties in the United States — urban communities and adjacent suburbs — and it is there the virus has taken its greatest toll, with an infection rate three times as high as the rest of the nation and a death rate four times as high.
In a country deeply segregated along racial, religious and economic lines, density also aligns with political divisions: Urban America tilts heavily blue. In the 2016 presidential election, Mr. Trump’s vote share increased as population density fell in almost every state.
- Help us report in critical moments.
But the divide in infections has been exacerbated by the path the virus has taken through the nation, which is not always connected to density. In some parts of red America, cities have been virtually unscathed and the sparsely populated outlying areas have been hardest hit. Researchers have also found links between the virus’s effects and age, race and the weather, and have noted that some of the densest cities globally have not been hit as hard.
If seeing is believing, the infection has simply come to some areas of the country on a far different scale than others. As of Friday, Alabama had experienced 11 deaths per 100,000 residents and New Jersey had lost 122 per 100,000. Both states have had a huge spike in unemployment claims.
Texas, solidly Republican territory and the second most populous state in the nation, had one of the country’s hottest economies before the outbreak. The state’s biggest cities have so far escaped the worst of the damage. More than 200 metro areas in the United States have higher infection rates than both Dallas and Houston, which may explain why Texas residents are particularly frustrated by the shutdown.
- New York Times.