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New survey ranks the safest U.S. states during COVID-19

Vaccination rates continue to be an issue as the country tries to play catch-up in that metric

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With all you’ve heard and know about COVID-19 -- vaccination rates, restrictions, etc. -- what U.S. state would you pick as the safest place to be at this point in the pandemic? Alaska, Utah, or Ohio? What about Red states or Blue states? Highest and lowest transmission rates?

WalletHub decided to crunch the numbers by comparing all 50 states and the District of Columbia on five different metrics: the rates of COVID-19 transmission, positive testing, hospitalizations, deaths, and the share of the eligible population getting vaccinated.

As you can imagine, no state is perfect, but the last two states to enter the Union showed up at the top. With a total score of 86.52, Alaska ranked first with a score of 86.52. Coming in second with a score of 79.22 was Hawaii. 

Alaska comes out on top and Ohio finishes last

Alaska made its way to the top mostly because of high vaccination rates and low hospitalization rates. However, as you’ll see in the breakouts, Alaska also has one of the highest transmission rates.

Ohio came in dead last with a fourth of the total points Alaska received and 14 points behind the 50th place finisher, South Carolina -- mostly due to its high death rate. Below is a list of some of the other interesting findings from the survey:

Red States vs. Blue States: The Blue states do slightly better in the “safest” category, with an average rank of 24.38 vs. 27.68 for Red states. *Note: In this ranking, a smaller number means that a state is safer.

Highest and Lowest Vaccination Rates: The highest vaccination Top 5 finishers are Alaska, New Mexico, Connecticut, North Dakota, and West Virginia. The Bottom 5 -- the ones with the worst vaccination rates -- are Kansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and Rhode Island.

Positive vs. Negative Testing Rates: Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Michigan, and Missouri currently have the lowest positive testing rates. Rhode Island, North Carolina, New Jersey, South Carolina, and New York have the highest positive testing rates.

Hospitalization Rates: Again, Hawaii and Alaska top the list. They’re followed by North Dakota, Oregon, and Minnesota. At the low end of the scale, the states with the highest hospitalization rates are Georgia, Arizona, New York, Texas, and the District of Columbia.

Lowest Death Rates: The five states with the lowest death rates are North Dakota, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine, and Alaska. At the other end of the scale, the states with the highest death rates are Georgia, Rhode Island, Arizona, Alabama, and Ohio. 

Highest and Lowest Transmission Rates: Consumers in Arizona are enjoying the lowest transmission rates in the country, according to the researchers. After the Grand Canyon State, the others in the lowest transmission category are Maine, Alabama, and then in a three-way tie between Arkansas, California, and Missouri. The five states with the highest transmission rates are Minnesota, Alaska, New York, South Dakota, and Nebraska. 

Is there a way states can improve on this metric? One researcher says it comes down to identifying groups and getting people signed up for appointments.

“Target the vaccine administration to small teams that vaccinate groups of people that congregate together even if they fall into different tiers. The greatest barrier to the vaccine in the arms step is signing people up online or on the phone,” suggests Dianna Bryant, Ph.D., CIH, CSP – Director, Institute for Rural Emergency Management, Associate Professor Crisis and Disaster Management, at the University of Central Missouri.

“Setting appointments with groups to sign up their members puts the recruitment emphasis at the person to person level. Community centers, church groups, boy scouts, girl scouts, Boys and Girls clubs, bowling leagues, are all composed of folks who will fill a schedule of vaccine appointments and reduce vaccine hesitancy.”

Vaccination rates can become an even more important metric if the coronavirus isn’t wrestled completely to the ground. Like a flu shot, it’s possible that you might have to get an annual COVID-19 inoculation because people will need protection from future virus variants.

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