The spread of COVID-19 continues to race through America at an astonishing speed. Total confirmed cases topped 14 million yesterday, as they increased 190,481 to 14,055,018. Hospitalizations nationwide have reached a record of over 100,000. Fatal cases reached 276,576, up by 2,664 in a day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) forecasts that coronavirus deaths could reach 450,000 by February.
One state has far fewer confirmed COVID-19 cases than any other by far. The count in Vermont is 4,461. The state with the second-lowest number is nearby Maine at 12,208. Vermont’s fatal case count is an extremely low 74.
A primary reason Vermont is considered such an outlier is that states with similar populations are in the midst of terrible spreads of COVID-19. Vermont’s population is 623,989, the second-lowest in the nation.
The state with the fourth-lowest population is among the hardest hit by COVID-19 now. North Dakota has a population of 762,062, and it has 80,141 confirmed cases and 972 fatal ones.
The situation in South Dakota, which is the fifth-lowest in population among the states at 884,659, is just as bad. It has 82,203 confirmed cases and 995 deaths.
Another measure shows the radical difference between the Dakotas and Vermont. Vermont’s cases per 100,000 people are an extremely low 15.8. The comparable North Dakota number is 87.4. South Dakota has the worst number in the country at 116.4.
Why are the differences between Vermont and the Dakotas so profound? The readiest answer is public policy. Vermont has almost entirely blocked its borders. People are strongly discouraged from traveling outside the state. Gatherings with people from other households are prohibited. The governor announced that “visitors to Vermont can only socialize with the people they are traveling with. They cannot gather with Vermonters or with people from another traveling group.” The state has pressed its residents hard to wear masks and stay at least six feet from one another.
The governor of South Dakota refuses to mandate that masks be worn in public. In some cities, local officials have taken matters into their own hands, but that only partially solves the problem.
Cases in Vermont have begun to pick up as they have in virtually every other state. However, with its current safety measures in place, it likely will remain the state with the lowest confirmed case count.