New COVID Hospitalizations in U.S. Occur Mostly in Heavily Religious States June 12, 2020

New COVID Hospitalizations in U.S. Occur Mostly in Heavily Religious States

I read this, and wondered.

As states and cities across the country reopen, some are seeing a worrying rise in new coronavirus cases. While in most states, new infections remain flat or are decreasing, in 14 states, new cases are growing. ABC News has found that eight states — Arizona, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah — are seeing increasing hospitalization for COVID-19.

It occurred to me that with the exception of Arizona, the states mentioned are heavily religious. Based on 2017 Pew data, seven out of eight are in the top 12 for religiosity, and four (Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Arkansas) are in the top 5. Arizona ranks in the middle at number 27.

Looking specifically at the percentages of people who say they pray daily, Mississippi is number 1 out of 50 states, Tennessee number 3, the Carolinas share the number 6 spot, Arkansas is number 9, Texas number 11, and Utah number 13.

Next, let’s look at (self-reported) weekly church attendance — a metric that may help suss out whether high religious attendance and COVID-19 hospitalizations are correlated, which might point to the coronavirus spreading among (and from) congregants. Out of all 50 states, Utah is number 1 in church visits, with 53 percent of people supposedly going to church every week. Tennessee ranks number 3, Mississippi is number 4, South Carolina number 5, Texas number 11, Arkansas number 12, and North Carolina number 13.

Correlation doesn’t equal causation, and the evidence isn’t clear enough to amount to an indictment of religious services as spreader events. If there’s a causal connection, it’s hard to explain why some seriously religious states, such as Alabama and Louisiana, aren’t seeing bigger hospitalization spikes at the moment, or why moderately-religious Arizona is shaping up to be the country’s new COVID basket case.

There are obviously a lot of factors at play. One is that religious states are more politically conservative, and it’s from conservatives that we’ve seen the biggest clamor for reopening the economy virtually without restrictions. That would put Arizona back into the fold: its highest-ranking elected officials were almost uniformly Republican from 2011 through 2018, although Arizona Democrats gained ground again in the elections of two years ago.

What we know for certain is that, with Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Arkansas all occupying spots in the top 10 of most prayerful states, the outsized amount of praying from those locales doesn’t seem to do anything to keep COVID at bay.

(Featured image via Shutterstock)

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