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Health & Science

Republican-leaning counties in Northeast Ohio suffer higher COVID death tolls, a new NPR analysis shows

A Trump supporter, who declined to give his name, gives a thumbs up to drivers honking their horns in support of a pro-Trump rally at Kamm Shopping Plaza, Cleveland, Ohio. Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020
Carter Eugene Adams
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The findings by NPR show that nationally those living in counties that voted 60% or higher for Trump in the 2020 presidential election had 2.26 times the death rate of those that went by a equal margin for Biden.

Residents of counties that went heavily for then-President Donald Trump in the 2020 election are more than twice as likely to die from COVID-19 than those living in areas that went for President Joe Biden.

That’s according to a newly updated analysis by NPR that explored how partisanship and misinformation are shaping the pandemic. It looked at COVID deaths per 100,000 people in roughly 3,000 counties across the country after May 2021, the point at which vaccines were widely available, NPR wrote.

The data from NPR shows that, among Northeast Ohio counties, the COVID-19 death rates per 100,000 residents were highest in counties where a majority of voters backed Donald Trump in the last presidential election.

Dr. Amy Edwards, an infectious disease specialist from University Hospitals, thinks the correlation could be because many of the Trump-leaning counties are also more rural, and rural parts of the state have worse health outcomes.

"You're more likely to die from a heart attack, you're more likely to die from a stroke, you're more likely to die in birth," she said. "There's a lot of health outcomes that are worse the further you live away from a hospital or a well-equipped medical center."

In Ohio, many rural counties have seen hospitals closed or consolidated, Edwards said.

In Carroll County, where 76% of voters went for Trump, 53% of those over 18 are fully vaccinated, according to NPR. The death rate there is 296 per 100,000 residents. That’s 168 points higher than the overall average, according to NPR.

By comparison, in Cuyahoga County where only 32% of voters backed Trump, 75% are vaccinated and the death rate is 134 per 100,000, the data show. That is still higher than that overall average, but by a much smaller margin: 6 points.

"Rural counties were more likely to refuse to get vaccinated than more urban counties," Edwards said.

The data backs this up. In Holmes County, 83% of voters pulled the lever for Trump. Only 25% of the over 18 population there is fully vaccinated and people are more likely to die of COVID-19; 183 people died per 100,000 residents.

The findings showed that nationally those living in counties that voted 60% or higher for Trump in the 2020 presidential election had 2.26 times the death rate of those that went by a equal margin for Biden. Counties with a higher share of Trump votes had even higher mortality rates, according to the analysis.

Edwards thinks many people in these counties believed lies spread about the virus and vaccination, in addition to the connection between rural counties and poor health outcomes.

"That's probably your correlation," she said. "It's not to do with voting for Trump made you more likely to die, it's just that rural counties were more likely to go to Trump and rural counties were also more likely not to be accepting of the vaccine."