Published June 9th, 2021 at 6:00 AM
A new study suggests Missouri remains one of the most unsafe states during the lingering COVID-19 pandemic.
The study by WalletHub ranked all 50 states and the District of Columbia across five metrics: vaccination rate, positive testing rate, hospitalization rate, death rate and estimated transmission rate.
Missouri’s overall rank is 42nd out of 51, according to the study released May 27. Meanwhile, Kansas ranks 14th out of 51.
The reason for Missouri’s low rank is its high death rate and low vaccination rate. According to WalletHub, the state ranks 41st in terms of the death rate and 40th on the vaccination rate.
More than 9,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Missouri, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Currently, about 35% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated.
Rankings are based on data available as of 12:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, May 26, 2021.
Notably, two Missouri counties had among the highest rates of COVID-19 infection in the country in recent days. Livingston and Linn counties ranked first and third, respectively, in terms of cases per 100,000 residents on Tuesday, according to a New York Times analysis.
Kansas, meanwhile, has a low death rate but also a low vaccination rate. It ranks 15th in death rate and 29th in vaccination rate. There have been more than 5,000 deaths in Kansas and about 35% of the state is fully vaccinated, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Dr. Jenifer Allsworth, an epidemiologist and professor at University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, said that had the study been done a few months ago, the states’ rankings would have been more closely aligned. But vaccination rates in Kansas have gone up while infection rates have gone down in recent weeks.
“It’s really in the last 12 weeks where Kansas has gotten itself on a good downward slope,” Allsworth said. “And Missouri is also on a downward slope, but just lagging a little bit.”
Frank Thompson, the deputy director of the Kansas City Health Department, said the low vaccination rates for Missouri are due to a variety of reasons, including distrust of the vaccine.
“(Distrust of the vaccine) is one of the things we can combat by putting out more information about the vaccines and encouraging people who have been vaccinated to actually speak to those in their social networks,” Thompson said.
A new survey by Invisibly revealed that 33% of Americans find the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) untrustworthy, compared to 23% of people 10 months ago. In contrast, 39% of people find the CDC trustworthy, compared 29% 10 months ago.
Thompson said he believes the increase in people who find the CDC trustworthy is due to the change in administration. But the increase in those who find the CDC untrustworthy is likely due to mixed messaging on social media and other outlets, he added.
The Kansas City Health Department recently received a grant from the CDC that Thompson said will allow the department to partner with different community organizations to improve messaging around vaccinations and build trust.
“That will actually allow us to partner with some community organizations … and really work with them both to craft messages, to look at how those messages are being delivered to those communities and really approach it more as a partnership, rather than just, ‘We’re from the health department and here’s the information we want to give you,’ ” Thompson said.
But as states continue to reopen, both Allsworth and Thompson recommend continuing mask-wearing and social distancing when in public spaces, even after being fully vaccinated.
“There’s no way for you to know the vaccination status of those around you,” Thompson said. “We still recommend that everyone both vaccinated and unvaccinated wear masks and maintain social distancing.”
Marissa Plescia is a Dow Jones summer intern at Kansas City PBS.