- Erinn Broadus and Dasha Kolyaskina
Tennessee Continues to Test nearly 2x as Many Residents per Capita as Kentucky, Still has Fewer Deat
Three weeks ago, Tennessee seemed to be weathering COVID-19 better than Kentucky – with greater numbers of tests administered and fewer confirmed deaths. Both trends persist, although Kentucky has increase its testing capacity.
Increased Testing Availability and Distribution
In the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, only those with the most severe COVID cases were receiving tests, and these tests were usually performed in a clinical environment. As this crisis has evolved, states have expanded their testing capacity.
Drive-thru testing in Tennessee has been conducted primarily during the weekends. On May 4th, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced that about 23,000 people had been tested for COVID-19 at 67 drive through events over the three previous weekends.
Kentucky has worked with several partners to offer drive-thru testing around the state. The times and dates vary by facility, but testing is available in 32 of 120 counties and in every region of the state. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear has encouraged every Kentuckian that wants a test to sign up for one at the nearest drive-thru site. In a daily briefing, he explained that these tests would likely be most important for those who plan on returning to work in the coming months.
As of May 12, 110,634 Kentuckians and 292,917 Tennesseans had been tested for COVID-19. In Kentucky, roughly 2,549 of every 100,000 people have been tested; in Tennessee, just over 4,615 of every 100,000 have been tested. Tennessee continues to outpace Kentucky in not only the number of tests performed but has tested nearly twice as many people per capita.
Confirmed Cases and Deaths
As of May 12, Kentucky had 6,853 positive tests for COVID-19, and 321 Kentuckians had died from the virus. At this same point, Tennessee had 16,370 positive tests for COVID-19 but only 273 deaths from the virus. Of every 100,000 people in Kentucky, roughly 158 have tested positive and 7 have died; in Tennessee, 258 of every 100,000 have tested positive and 4 have died.
Tennessee has seen far greater numbers test positive for COVID-19 than Kentucky, which is likely due to the greater rates of testing in Tennessee compared to Kentucky. When pressed about why Kentucky lagged behind its neighbors in testing, Governor Andy Beshear answered that it was largely because of Tennessee’s large private testing capacity. Despite increases in positive cases per capita, Tennessee has continued to face considerably fewer deaths.
Some experts have reasoned that the virus may be deadlier in states like Kentucky than in Tennessee and other parts of the country because of the poor health outcomes of its citizens. COVID-19 is widely known to impact those with certain health conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and obesity more severely than those without these conditions. While these conditions are certainly prevalent in Kentucky, the aggregate health of Kentuckians does not seem to differ significantly from those of Tennesseans. In 2019, the United Health Foundation ranked Kentucky 43rd in terms of overall health primarily because of poor behavioral measures and poor health outcomes. Kentucky ranked 50th in physical inactivity, 46th in obesity in adults, 49th in smoking, and 44th in diabetes. The same study found that Tennessee ranked 47th in physical inactivity, 38th in obesity in adults, 46th in smoking, and 45th in diabetes; Tennessee even ranked 45th overall – worse than Kentucky. It is unlikely that differences in health between citizens of the two states explains the higher COVID-19 death rate in Kentucky than in Tennessee.
Kentucky had been praised for being among the first states to enforce social distancing and close businesses, while Tennessee was slow to act—trusting its residents to act responsibly rather than burden the state with economic pressure. Despite Tennessee’s hesitation to enforce closures, the state has suffered fewer deaths per capita and has administered more than twice as many tests as Kentucky.
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