Truth tracker: NC is faring better than most states during pandemic. But what does that mean?

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Gov. Roy Cooper leaned on a couple of numbers to back up his claim that North Carolina is getting through the pandemic better than most states.

THE CLAIM: “North Carolina is among the states with the fewest deaths and fewest job losses per capita,” Cooper said.

THE FACTS: Those numbers came from a study published earlier this week by Hamilton Place Strategies, a Washington-based think tank. 

It compared the 50 states based on their performance during the pandemic in two measures — per capita excess deaths, as measured by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and per capita jobs losses over the past year from the Bureau of Labor Statistics — and mapped them onto a scatter plot.

Source: Hamilton Place Strategies.

The lower and the further to the left on the chart, the better — and in fact, that’s precisely where North Carolina landed, close to Nebraska but not quite as good as Idaho, Utah and West Virginia.

The numbers check out. But the more important question: What do they mean?

“It shows that both we’re paying attention to health and safety and our economy,” Cooper said. “I think we’ve done this right.”

North Carolina State University economics professor Dr. Michael Walden agreed with the governor.

“The good news is that whatever was done in North Carolina, the cumulative effect of what was done — both on the business side and the medical side — was that we can hold our heads high and say we really came through this relative to other states,” Walden said. “And clearly, we’ve had deaths. Clearly, we’ve had business losses. I don’t want to minimize that at all, and we have to deal with that beyond the pandemic. But we look very, very good on those two metrics.”

There’s no simple explanation why, Walden said, although he added that Cooper “was trying to learn from the business community in particular (and) he was obviously listening to the medical community.”

He also credits Cooper for focusing on data to walk a fine line.

“The tighter we closed down, the theory was, the more people we would save from the pandemic,” he said. “But the tighter we closed down, the more losses we would have in the economy. So it was a very, very difficult balancing act.”

Walden — who publishes a monthly index of leading economic indicators for the state — also has an optimistic view of the economy for the state and the nation, saying North Carolina’s navigation of the pandemic will make it more appealing to businesses and residents in the future.

“I think we’re going to become even more attractive because I think the business community in the in the country, households looking to move to relocate in the country, I think North Carolina will be looked at as a safe state, if I can use that term,” Walden said. “A state that that handled a pandemic in a very professional way.”

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