Tales From the Midwestern Front: How Missouri and Illinois Coronavirus Numbers Compare

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Last week, I took a look at some of the Coronavirus numbers from Missouri, particularly in relation to its efforts to “bend the curve.” Prior to that, I’d examined how states with less draconian lockdown orders were faring in comparison to those with a tighter grip. As we head into April’s last week and are beginning to see some states loosening their restrictions (or setting a timetable for doing so), I thought it might be worthwhile to take another look at two states here in the heart of the country and see how they’re stacking up.

I’ve written previously on the red state/blue state contrast between Missouri and Illinois. It’s a concept that interests me as they are the two states I know best (have lived/worked/gone to school in both) and they’re right next to one another yet have strikingly different political demographics. Missouri is currently red-red — it has a Republican governor (Mike Parson) and a Republican supermajority legislature. Illinois is blue-blue, with a Democratic governor (J.B. Pritzker) and a Democratic supermajority legislature. Our respective colors aren’t monolithic, of course. As red as Missouri is, our urban centers — St. Louis City and County, Kansas City and, to a lesser extent, Springfield (Greene County) and Columbia (Boone County) — are blue or purple. And, as blue as Illinois is, its out-state areas are purple if not red.

Another stark difference between the two states? Population — Illinois has approximately 12.9 million people, while Missouri has 6.2 million people, a little fewer than half. While Illinois is 57,915 square miles in size, Missouri is a smidge bigger, with 69,704 square miles of land. Not surprisingly then, their population density differs significantly. (Illinois has 230 people per square mile, Missouri has 89.1.)

With all that said, how are these two very-different-yet-connected states faring vis-a-vis COVID-19? As of today, April 23, 2020, at 10:15 am CDT, Illinois has 35,108 confirmed cases of the virus and 1,565 deaths attributed to it (putting its rough mortality rate at 4.5%.) It’s performed 164,436 tests. It has 2,738 cases per million people, 122 deaths per million people, and 12,825 tests per million people.

In contrast, Missouri has 6,188 confirmed cases and 232 deaths (putting its rough mortality rate at 3.7%). Missouri has performed 59,266 tests. It has 1,016 cases per million people, 38 deaths per million people, and 9,732 tests per million people.

So, while it has twice as many people, Illinois has 5.7 times as many cases as Missouri, and 6.8 times as many deaths. It has tested 2.7 times as many people. Its cases per million people are 2.7 times higher than Missouri’s; its deaths per million people 3.2 times higher. Its testing per million people? 1.3 times higher.

Keep in mind, Illinois issued its statewide stay-at-home order on March 21st, 16 days prior to Missouri’s. And Illinois has implemented 5 of the 6 government-mandated social distancing measures tracked by IHME. (Missouri has implemented 4 out of 6.)  It should be noted that Illinois reported its first case on January 24, 2020, 6 weeks prior to Missouri. Yet both states are past their projected peak in daily deaths and both appear to have plateaued or be on the right side of the curve for new cases.

As I — and others — have noted previously, this virus is no respecter of politics. A host is a host, whether they vote Democrat, Republican, or are as apolitical as they come. But if we’re going to play politics with this beast (and why would a pandemic prompt us to lay politics aside? /sarc), the red state has fared better here. Again, I attribute that primarily to population density. More people more closely together = more transmission vectors. Nevertheless, the numbers favor Missouri here. So, the next time someone’s squawking about the responses of Republican governors versus Democrat governors, point them here.