Which States Are Least Ready For A Pandemic?

Kathy Morris
by Kathy Morris
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Many experts say we are “due” for a pandemic.

From Ebola, to SARs, to the current Coronavirus, every year it seems there is some new virus all over the news. While there is no evidence or reason to believe we are currently on the cusp of an emerging pandemic, it does make you wonder “How would the US handle a pandemic?” The answer? It’s complicated. For one, the United States is made up of fifty states with different levels of funding, preparation, and healthcare infrastructure.

We examined CDC funding, vaccination rates, uninsured populations, and other key metrics to explore the states that are least ready for a pandemic.

Here are the states least equipped to handle a pandemic:

  1. North Carolina
  2. New Jersey
  3. Missouri
  4. New York
  5. California
  6. Indiana
  7. Georgia
  8. Ohio
  9. Illinois
  10. Nevada

How We Determined The States Least Ready For A Pandemic

  • Total CDC Funding Per Capita
  • Population Density
  • Vaccination Rate
  • Uninsured Rate
  • Hospitals Per Population
  • Flu/Pneumonia Deaths Per 100k

The first area we looked at was total CDC funding per capita. While each state has their own disease fighting organization, the CDC’s support for these organizations is crucial to their effectiveness. It stands to reason that the more money from the CDC, the readier a state is for a pandemic.

After that we looked at population density using data from the ACS. Neighbors are great- until they have a contagious virus. The more people in close proximity, the quicker a virus can spread.

We looked at vaccination rate in each state using data from the World Population Review. While current vaccines will not provide resistance against the next pandemic, they do show a state’s medical access and willingness to follow sound medical advice. For similar reasons we took into account a state’s rate of uninsured residents from the ACS. In the early days of a pandemic, many without insurance may not seek medical help and continue to spread the sickness to others.

To measure the capacity of a state to house and handle an extremely sick population, we pulled in hospitals per population from the Kaiser Foundation.

Finally, we examined the CDC’s data on 2017 flu and pneumonia death rates per 100,000. Sickness is complicated, but past record at containing the flu and aiding the sick may be one of the best predictors for ready a state is to handle other, more serious sickness.

1. North Carolina

north carolina
Uninsured Rate: 10.7
CDC Funding Per Capita: $18.81
Vaccination Rate: 85.30%

North Carolina is one of the states least equipped to handle a pandemic of serious health epidemic. The Tar Heele State has low CDC funding, an unfavorable ratio of hospitals to patients, and a poor history of dealing with the flu.

2. New Jersey

new jersey
Uninsured Rate: 7.4
CDC Funding Per Capita: $16.59
Vaccination Rate: 79.40%

New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation. Close neighbors aren’t so great when they’re contagious. Throw in low CDC funding per capita and you see why the Garden State is the second least prepared state.

3. Missouri

missouri
Uninsured Rate: 9.4
CDC Funding Per Capita: $18.98
Vaccination Rate: 75.50%

Missouri’s abysmal vaccination rate earned it the #3 spot. However, the state’s high rate of uninsured and poor health funding, mean that’s not the only issue the state faces when it comes to being ready to handle a health crisis.

4. New York

new york
Uninsured Rate: 5.4
CDC Funding Per Capita: $19.41
Vaccination Rate: 81.70%

While most New Yorkers have health insurance, they live close together. That density might make it a cultural center, but with low CDC funding a poor record of handling the flu, it also means in the right-wrong conditions the state could be a petri dish.

5. California

california
Uninsured Rate: 7.2
CDC Funding Per Capita: $19.61
Vaccination Rate: 80.90%

California is a great place to be healthy with beautiful beaches and exciting cities filled with opportunity. However, it’s not so great a place to be sick. While you have a decent chance of having health insurance, there are 108,725 people per hospital.

6. Indiana

indiana
Uninsured Rate: 8.3
CDC Funding Per Capita: $17.11
Vaccination Rate: 78.60%

In 6th place is Indiana. Indiana has a vaccination rate of 78.6%. Which is the 8th lowest in the nation.

7. Georgia

georgia
Uninsured Rate: 13.7
CDC Funding Per Capita: $26.50
Vaccination Rate: 78.80%

Georgia has the cards stacked against it in a pandemic or serious health crisis. 13.7% of residents are uninsured, which means they might ignore that cough until it’s serious business.

8. Ohio

ohio
Uninsured Rate: 6.5
CDC Funding Per Capita: $17.90
Vaccination Rate: 80.50%

Ohio receives $17.90 per capita in CDC funding. That’s more than half of what Vermont gets.

9. Illinois

illinois
Uninsured Rate: 7
CDC Funding Per Capita: $16.76
Vaccination Rate: 83.00%

Illinois is the 9th worst equipped state to handle a severe health crisis. Poor CDC funding and a dense population mean Illinois may have a hard time stopping sickness before it spreads.

10. Nevada

nevada
Uninsured Rate: 11.2
CDC Funding Per Capita: $21.55
Vaccination Rate: 80.40%

Nevada has an 11.2% uninsured rate and a subpar record of stamping out the flu.

Summary On States Most Poorly Equipped To Handle A Pandemic

No one knows where the next pandemic will hit or exactly what it will look like. However, states with better funding and infrastructure will have a fighting chance at containment and treatment. While we all hope the next global sickness is far off (or never!), good preparation will be key. You can see the full data below and the states in the best position to stop a pandemic in its tracks.

States Least (And Most) Equipped To Handle A Pandemic

Rank State Uninsured Total Cdc Funding Per Capita Vaccination Rate (%) Population Density People Per Hospital Flu/Pneumonia Deaths Per 100Kppl
1 North Carolina 10 $18.81 85.3% 213 90,072 17
2 New Jersey 7 $16.59 79.4% 1,201 108,360 11
3 Missouri 9 $18.98 75.5% 88 48,465 16
4 New York 5 $19.41 81.7% 413 116,604 17
5 California 7 $19.61 80.9% 253 108,725 14
6 Indiana 8 $17.11 78.6% 186 50,439 13
7 Georgia 13 $26.50 78.8% 181 70,818 13
8 Ohio 6 $17.90 80.5% 285 58,887 14
9 Illinois 7 $16.76 83.0% 229 67,612 15
10 Nevada 11 $21.55 80.4% 27 67,497 19
11 Florida 13 $19.09 85.2% 394 95,289 9
12 South Carolina 10 $22.62 79.4% 168 71,732 12
12 Pennsylvania 5 $15.48 82.5% 285 63,620 14
12 Alabama 10 $21.60 81.2% 96 47,789 20
15 Virginia 8 $15.39 92.1% 215 89,090 13
16 Michigan 5 $18.80 81.0% 175 68,780 14
17 Washington 6 $20.06 78.9% 113 80,688 12
18 Texas 17 $21.28 79.9% 109 53,589 11
19 Oklahoma 14 $23.18 77.6% 57 30,475 13
20 Hawaii 4 $31.76 79.2% 221 56,975 29
21 Connecticut 5 $20.29 85.5% 737 111,665 13
21 Arizona 10 $21.07 81.0% 63 84,867 10
23 Maryland 6 $31.93 81.9% 618 118,115 14
23 Mississippi 12 $25.48 81.5% 63 29,885 22
25 Arkansas 8 $23.97 79.4% 57 34,106 19
26 Kansas 8 $20.26 78.5% 35 20,199 15
27 Delaware 5 $30.15 87.2% 494 119,602 14
28 Colorado 7 $21.13 77.3% 54 63,054 10
29 Utah 9 $22.19 79.5% 38 58,510 13
30 Massachusetts 2 $23.43 92.6% 880 91,463 15
31 Oregon 7 $21.43 78.0% 43 67,928 11
31 Tennessee 10 $20.87 86.7% 164 54,990 12
33 Wyoming 10 $29.69 76.9% 5 19,963 17
34 Louisiana 8 $27.59 79.0% 106 28,653 15
35 Wisconsin 5 $16.89 80.7% 107 43,210 12
35 Kentucky 5 $21.17 84.3% 112 40,846 18
37 West Virginia 6 $22.96 81.8% 74 32,446 18
38 Rhode Island 4 $39.59 87.5% 1,011 95,970 13
39 Idaho 11 $24.57 81.2% 21 37,341 13
40 South Dakota 9 $33.98 79.8% 11 15,313 19
41 Alaska 12 $49.67 74.2% 1 35,223 11
42 Nebraska 8 $26.64 85.7% 25 20,382 16
43 Maine 8 $27.98 88.3% 43 41,706 15
44 Montana 8 $31.77 78.7% 7 19,136 13
45 New Mexico 9 $32.66 85.7% 17 51,019 13
46 New Hampshire 5 $27.53 87.8% 151 48,170 13
47 Minnesota 4 $21.54 81.4% 70 43,149 9
48 Iowa 4 $21.70 83.5% 56 26,850 13
49 North Dakota 7 $29.88 86.1% 11 19,357 15
50 Vermont 4 $41.57 83.5% 67 44,596 9
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