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Analysis: Florida's COVID Outcomes Better Than New York's

Florida and New York have comparable population sizes and densities. However, their governors—Ron DeSantis (R., Florida) and Andrew Cuomo (D., New York)—have taken starkly different approaches to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ron DeSantis (Naples Daily News)

Florida's DeSantis has implemented few COVID-related restrictions, with a local CBS affiliate reporting that "there is no statewide mask mandate. There are no restrictions on restaurants, and the governor says restaurants will stay open." In an acknowledgment that COVID-19 primarily affects senior citizens, DeSantis dispatched the National Guard to nursing homes and banned visits until September. Even today, indoor visitation at nursing homes is limited to family members and caregivers.

Conversely, New York's Cuomo has opted for centralized control, dictates, and regulations, basing his decisions on regional hospitalization statistics, test positivity rates, and other metrics. Indoor dining in New York City is banned, private indoor and outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited, and there is a 50% capacity limit for restaurants in the rest of the state. The typical news story in New York reads something like this: "When it comes to bars and restaurants, Cuomo suggested he will decide their fate late this week, allowing for five more days of hospitalization data to come in first" (emphasis added).

Andrew Cuomo (AM New York)

The New York paradigm at least partially lacks in evidence. The New York Times reports, "Of 46,000 cases between September and November, 1.43 percent could be linked to restaurants and bars, compared to 73.84 percent connected to private gatherings and 7.81 percent tied to the health care system, the second-largest source." Nonetheless, indoor restaurant service is nonexistent in the Big Apple and it is limited statewide.

Comparing Outcomes:

As of December 27th, there have been 37,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in New York, compared to 21,211 in Florida. While New York City was one of the first locations in America hit by COVID, Cuomo has received blame for early mistakes which contributed to the Empire State's death count. Crucially for this analysis, the data show that Florida's current outcomes are better than those of New York.

First, Florida has fewer new cases of COVID than New York. The data are complicated somewhat because Florida did not report cases or deaths on Christmas, but this anomaly can be accounted for by considering December 25th and 26th as a unit. On these dates, Florida reported 16,588 new cases, and New York a combined 23,252. These numbers are consistent with the seven-day average of new cases in each state on December 26th, provided by the Times: 11,175 in New York and 10,207 in Florida.

Second, Florida has fewer COVID-related hospitalizations than New York. The COVID Tracking Project reports that on December 26th, there were 5,647 people hospitalized with COVID in Florida and 6,884 in New York. And, per the Times, the seven-day average for hospitalizations in Florida on December 26th was 5,528, compared to 6,686 for New York.

Third, New York's daily death count eclipses that of Florida. On December 25th and 26th combined, Florida saw 142 deaths from COVID, which is far fewer than New York's 247 deaths on those two dates. Similarly, the seven-day average of New York's death count was 139 on December 26th, compared to 95 for Florida.

The Empire State's heightened death statistics are something of a surprise, as New Yorkers are generally younger than Floridians. The median age in New York is 3.2 years less than in Florida, and 16.95% of the people in New York are 65 years old or older—compared to 20.94% in Florida.* Given that COVID principally preys on those 65 and over, Florida's large senior population is theoretically a liability.

Florida vs. New York Trends:

Over the summer, Florida's case, hospitalization, and death counts appeared to be spiraling out of control, whereas New York enjoyed one day in August with no COVID deaths at all (August 20th). Now, New York's indicators are worsening and Florida's numbers—which surged over the summer and then plateaued—have remained relatively constant.

Florida deaths (N.Y. Times)

The Times reports that for the 14 days preceding December 26th, Florida cases were up 6% and hospitalizations 22%. Meanwhile, the daily death count in Florida decreased by 6% over those 14 days. In New York, cases increased 12%, hospitalizations 35%, and deaths 66% between December 12th and 26th. 

As an aside, New York's dismal outcomes are masked by the huge Y-axis of graphs of the Empire State's cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. This visual effect results from New York's difficulty managing COVID in the spring—a fate that Florida avoided—and illustrates the importance of considering raw numbers in addition to year-to-date graphical trends.

New York deaths (N.Y. Times)

Some contend that DeSantis is obstructing the release of COVID data, artificially improving Florida's standing relative to New York. An article published by Slate charges, "The state’s Department of Health collects a massive amount of information but holds some of it back." In reality, the COVID Tracking Project gives Florida an "A" for the completeness of their data, while New York gets a "B."


Even if the aggregate death counts in each state are ignored, Florida is achieving better COVID outcomes than New York. Consider the current statistics: Florida has fewer COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths than New York, and Florida also had a smaller increase in cases and hospitalizations than New York in the 14 days preceding December 26th. Moreover, the Sunshine State's 14-day average daily death count is on the decline, whereas New York's was up 66% between December 12th and 26th.

Florida's better outcomes vis-a-vis New York represent cases and hospitalizations averted and lives saved. Better yet, the Sunshine State's statistics indicate that DeSantis achieved a preferable arrangement for the people of Florida. They gave up fewer liberties than New Yorkers, and do not appear to be suffering for it epidemiologically.

Incidentally, each state's COVID response is consistent with their standing in the Cato Institute's state freedom rankings. Florida is in first place, and New York is stuck at fifty. 

The Florida vs. New York dichotomy also indicates that when it comes to COVID, authoritarian governance does not necessarily yield optimal results. Perhaps Cuomo would have opted against one-man rule had he read Friedrich Hayek, starting with "The Use of Knowledge in Society": "The knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form, but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individual possess."

* For this calculation, I divided the 2019 population of people 65 and over in Florida and New York by the total population of each state.

All unsigned FDL Review content is the product of Declan Hurley.