9 states getting it right

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This winter’s wave of Covid-19 outbreaks was the worst and deadliest in the year-long pandemic, but some states managed it better than others.

Every state’s pandemic response looks different, but one way to easily compare them is to examine which states have kept their death tolls low and which are getting vaccines into arms quickest.

Some of the states that avoided huge spikes in Covid deaths since November have also been top performers since the beginning of the pandemic.

Vermont and Washington, which have been consistently praised by experts for keeping case and death counts low during all three surges of the virus, entered the fall with lower case counts than most. Both states have been quick to implement targeted public health measures when cases flare up, while benefiting from high levels of public buy-in.

Alaska and Hawaii have also been top performers, partly due to their relative remoteness. But both states also had to fight back surges in the early fall that could have spiraled out of control, making their success anything but inevitable.

Virginia’s death rate began to significantly outperform most other states starting in October, when deaths began ticking up again nationwide. While some of Virginia’s success could be attributed to regional trends and a milder winter than hard-hit Northeast and Midwest states, it’s also benefited from stricter mask requirements and gathering limits than many of its neighbors in the Southeast. Though deaths in Virginia are still rising, the state managed to delay its winter wave, buying critical time to protect more people through vaccination.

On the vaccine front, policymakers are looking to learn from a handful of states that have outpaced the rest. While speed is not the only metric for success, a faster rollout means more lives saved and a swifter return to relative normalcy.

Alaska is once again a top performer, having received an additional allocation of the vaccines to account for its remote rural communities. The state took advantage of the extra doses with an ambitious vaccination drive involving boats, planes, snowmobiles and even dog sleds to cover the state’s vast and inhospitable territory.

North Dakota and West Virginia quickly administered its first doses by working directly with independent pharmacies to vaccinate their nursing home populations. The major national pharmacy chains are largely absent in these states, so they could not rely on the federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens that’s vaccinating long-term care facilities in virtually every other state — and has been slower overall to administer doses.

New Mexico’s health department has been praised for a relatively smooth rollout, becoming one of the first to launch a statewide appointment website that matches residents with local providers.

Connecticut benefited from being one of the first states to stand up mass vaccination sites, as well as a nimble inventory management system that transfers unused doses to other facilities at the end of each day.

The pandemic is far from over — experts say states will need to keep public health measures in place for months until vaccination is widespread enough to achieve herd immunity. And new variants that appear to be more contagious and more resistant to available vaccines could fuel new infection surges. But with an end potentially in sight, these states have positioned themselves at the forefront of eventual recovery.

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