Massachusetts Lags Behind Its Peer States

Massachusetts has done a great job in bringing the coronavirus under control since the early, dark days of Covid-19, when it looked like hospitals in the state would be overrun like those in New York City. And relative to many states in the country, our statistics look pretty good. However, if we compare ourselves to peer states in New England and the Northeast, we’re at the back of the pack, as the following table shows. I’ve defined the peer states as the states with which Massachusetts shares a border, as well as Maine and New Jersey. The data is from Johns Hopkins’ excellent coronavirus tracking site, with population estimates taken from, which also tracks covid statistics.

Johns Hopkins Testing and Death Statistics

Massachusetts and Peer States

As of August 29, 2020

  Deaths Per 100,000 Residents   7 Day  Positivity Rate   Testing Rate (per 100)
State Last Week Last Month   Last Week Last Month   Last Week Last Month
Massachusetts 1.7 6.6   1.7 2.0   2.2 7.8
Rhode Island 1.5 3.7   1.3 1.9   3.8 13.7
New York 0.3 1.3   0.8 0.8   2.8 11.7
New Jersey 0.3 2.1   1.3 1.4   1.8 8.4
New Hampshire 0.2 1.3   1.2 1.5   0.9 3.7
Maine 0.1 0.8   0.6 0.7   2.1 6.7
Connecticut 0.1 1.0   0.9 0.8   2.9 9.8
Vermont 0.0 0.2   0.5 0.5   1.9 5.9

I’ve pulled together three statistics: death rates, testing positivity rates, and overall testing rates; and show each for the past week and past month, as per Hopkins. The states are sorted from worst to best death rates over the past week. Massachusetts continues to have a stubbornly high death rate, with only Rhode Island coming close. The other peer states have significantly lower rates – including New York and New Jersey, which were much more heavily ravaged at the beginning of the outbreak.

Why is this? It is difficult to know precisely, but about 70% of our deaths are coming from people in long-term care settings. I don’t know the percentages in other states, but it is surprising that the high death rate in those facilities continues months after the peak.

We’re also at the back of the pack when it comes to test positivity rate, although the gap between Massachusetts and our peer states is much lower. It may be harder to control the virus in a more urban state, which would explain why the positivity rates in Rhode Island and New Jersey are also relatively high, and Vermont and Maine have the best recent record here. But New York and Connecticut are also urban, and have much better statistics than we do. (New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut are the mostly densely populated states in the country in that order, and New York is the 7th most densely populated).

In terms of testing, we’re squarely in the middle of the group. Rhode Island leads the testing Olympics, perhaps because CVS is headquartered there (over the entire pandemic it is the top state in the country for testing per capita), followed by New York, and Connecticut. We’re doing relatively well, but not terrifically so. We started out as one of the better testing states, then fell back for some time. We’re now ranked 13th overall in the country per capita, but for a period of time we were testing less than the national average. Testing has picked up again, a positive sign.

3 replies on “Massachusetts Lags Behind Its Peer States”

Leave a Reply