NC Gov. Roy Cooper during a December COVID briefing. States like NC have struggled to contain COVID-19 despite relatively stringent restrictions, but that might be a better reflection of population. (Image via Cooper's office) Gov. Roy Cooper
NC Gov. Roy Cooper during a December COVID briefing. States like NC have struggled to contain COVID-19 despite relatively stringent restrictions, but that might be a better reflection of population. (Image via Cooper's office)

There’s a lurking variable in states like North Carolina that have high death rates despite more stringent restrictions.

Despite being among the top 10 states nationwide when it comes to COVID-19 restriction, North Carolina’s COVID-19 death rate lands among the bottom half of states in the nation.

That’s one key finding from a new study of coronavirus measures by the personal finance site Wallet Hub.  

The state also ranks 31st in the nation in unemployment. 

However, the study cautioned, this does not mean that fewer restrictions are better. Indeed, the figures might be a better representation of a state’s population.

Read More: Biden Administration Sending More Doses of Vaccine to NC

Many of the states that led the country in COVID measures are among the top 10 states by population, according to the US Census. North Carolina is the 9th most populous state with a population of almost 10.5 million. Additionally, Florida and Georgia are the third and eighth most populous states, respectively, and each state has relatively high death rates along with fewer restrictions. The remaining states in the top 10 (Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan) have more restrictions and lower death rates.

Of course, adherence to COVID restrictions might also be a factor.  And researchers say higher rates of travel and population density play a part too.

The study was released hours before Gov. Roy Cooper, acknowledging a persistently high rate of transmission in the state, announced the modified stay-at-home order would remain in place until Feb. 28th. That includes a nightly curfew and continued restrictions on large gatherings of people.

The study’s findings were based on 14 metrics, including mask mandates, and restrictions on travel, large gatherings, and businesses. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the fewest restrictions.

The study determined the weighted average across all metrics to calculate an overall score for each state and used the resulting scores to rank each state.

Despite high unemployment rates in many states, economists say there will be severe consequences to opening the economy too early.

This week, the NC Department of Health and Human Services dealt with blow-black due to a limited vaccine supply. Combined with President Joe Biden’s efforts to increase vaccine distribution, NC DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen has pledged to deliver the vaccine to all 100 counties.

For more on NC’s vaccine rollout, check out Cardinal & Pine’s ongoing coverage.