Tennessee has Tested 3x as Many Residents as Kentucky and has 40% Fewer Deaths Per Capita
Comparisons to Tennessee are commonplace in Kentucky and the state government response to the coronavirus has been no different. In the first weeks of economic shutdowns, some outlets compared the total number of cases in Tennessee to the number in Kentucky, criticizing Volunteer State Governor Bill Lee for not enacting more draconian economic constraints. Such comparisons failed to control for key differences like population and the number of tests administered however, rendering them quite useless.
Now with five weeks of data to compare, Kentucky's results do not look comparatively better. In fact, in the total number of tests administered and total number of deaths, the two statistics which have emerged as the most relevant, Tennessee has done a far superior job.
Pegasus Institute has frequently posted testing numbers per 10,000 residents for Kentucky and neighboring states over the course of the pandemic. In the earliest weeks, Kentucky was a regional leader in testing, trailing only Illinois in tests per capita on March 21st. A few weeks later however, the commonwealth is second to last among neighboring states, passed by Ohio in recent days and now only ahead of Virginia.
Tennessee, by contrast, continues to expand their testing lead in the region.
As of April 21st, Tennessee has tested 108,182 total residents compared to Kentucky's 33,328. The equates to 156.8 tests per 10,000 residents for Tennessee versus only 74 per 10,000 residents for Kentucky. Tennessee has done more than twice as many tests per capita and more than three times the number of tests overall.
Last weekend, Tennessee even opened 33 drive thru testing sites, made available to all residents regardless of whether they have symptoms. Kentucky has opened only a handful of drive thru testing site, which require sign-ups and for specific symptoms to be met for eligibility. Kentucky has stated that they hope the drive thru sites would allow for 20,000 tests to be done over the next 5 weeks. Tennessee has registered 23,133 tests in the last six days alone.
The comparison between COVID-19 deaths in the two states is arguably more shocking that the significant gap in testing. Tennessee, despite having approximately 2.4 million more residents than Kentucky, and two metro areas over 1.3 million residents (0 in Kentucky), has fewer deaths total than the Bluegrass State.
As of April 21st, Tennessee reported 157 deaths related to COVID-19 compared to Kentucky's 177 total. When accounting for population differences, Tennessee has 40% fewer deaths than Kentucky (2.276 per 100,000 residents in TN vs 3.933 per 100,000 residents in KY).
Taking an even deeper dive in the numbers, Davidson County, TN, home to Nashville and the center of the largest metro area in the state, has reported 20 total deaths. Jefferson County, KY, home to Louisville and the center of its state's largest metro area has reported 71 deaths, more than 3.5x the total in Davidson County. Both counties have approximately 700,000 residents.
Shelby County, Tennessee, the most populous county in the state and home of the second largest metro area of Memphis, has reported 39 deaths, meaning that Tennessee's two largest counties combined have 16% fewer deaths than Kentucky's largest county alone.
If Tennessee's handling of the coronavirus has been reckless, as some in Kentucky have alleged, there is no data to back up such an accusation. In fact, if we were to make conclusions today, most metrics would to indicate that Tennessee's handling of the pandemic has been positive when compared to outcomes in Kentucky.