UPDATED: Tiverton is last for vaccination but near-best for COVID hospitalizations?

Living in the town, of course it caught my eye that Dan McGowan of the Boston Globe outed Tiverton as the only town in Rhode Island with a vaccination rate below 50%:

Tiverton is now the only city or town in Rhode Island with a COVID-19 vaccination rate below 50 percent, according to data from the state Department of Health. The town’s vaccine rate is currently 49.5 percent, and its partially vaccinated rate is 52.6 percent.

As a state, 69.2 percent of Rhode Islanders are fully vaccinated – tied with Connecticut, Maine, and Guam for second best in the country behind Vermont’s 70 percent, according to The New York Times. Tiverton’s rate is on par with Montana, Indiana, and Missouri, which are all at 49 percent. Twelve states are even lower.

The strange thing about that is the state’s data shows Tiverton as having the very best hospitalization rate in the Ocean State among towns in which the number is given, with just 22 people.  Here’s a list of the worst and best municipalities for vaccination with their ranks in hospitalization rate:

  • Lowest vaccination:
    • Tiverton: 49.5% vaccinated, 1st lowest hospitalization rate
    • Woonsocket: 50.6% vaccinated, 33rd lowest for hospitalization
    • Newport: 54.7% vaccinated, 11th lowest for hospitalization
    • Burrillville: 54.9% vaccinated, 15th lowest for hospitalization
    • Little Compton: 55.9% vaccinated, hospitalization rate not calculated (probably because too low)
  • Highest vaccination:
    • North Kingstown: 75.1% vaccinated, 16th lowest hospitalization rate
    • Jamestown: 75.9% vaccinated, 2nd lowest hospitalization rate
    • Barrington: 76.9% vaccinated, 12th lowest hospitalization rate
    • East Greenwich: 79.2% vaccinated, 21st lowest hospitalization rate
    • New Shoreham: 100% vaccinated, hospitalization rate not calculated (probably because too low)

As a reminder, that’s out of 39 communities.  Of course, having Woonsocket on the lowest-vaccination list throws things off, but otherwise, the five least-vaccinated towns are doing better with hospitalizations than the five most-vaccinated towns.

Of course, there are all sorts of variables that play into these results.  To really understand what’s going on, we’d have to look at age mixes, prevalence of congregate living facilities, occupational factors, and so on.

Still, McGowan has given us an example of the problem with COVID coverage from the beginning.  We can measure and rank things like vaccination, but does it tell us anything important?  Isolating Tiverton for scrutiny without digging deeper gives the impression of shortcoming and danger.  Maybe that’s justified, or maybe it’s not.  Maybe there’s more to the story that would be helpful to understand, just like with vaccination and mask mandates.

But the political narrative requires a simple rule.


Update (5:00 p.m., 10/20/21)

Julia Kline points out to me on Tiverton that Town Administrator Christopher Cotta claims 2,500 residents of Tiverton were vaccinated in Massachusetts and are not, for some reason, included in Rhode Island’s numbers.  I’ve interacted with Cotta enough over the last two decades to know that he has no problem flat-out lying when the truth might make it more difficult for him to get what he wants, and being a government-centric person, he obviously thinks the vaccination rates of Tiverton reflect on him.

Notably, adding 2,500 vaccinated people to Tiverton’s total only brings the town to 65%, which is obviously better than 50%, but still a distance from 75%.  Surely he’s aware that’s the difference between middle-of-the-pack and top 6.

That said, the tendency of residents of a community to cross the border in their daily life is certainly one of those other variables that affect the results.  The two lowest states for vaccination rates, according to Rhode Island are Tiverton and Woonsocket, after all, according to Rhode Island.  And while the line isn’t perfect, of course, it does generally look like the closer one gets to the center of the state, the higher the vaccination rate tends to be.

All of this simply reinforces to irresponsible construction of a narrative on the part of the media.  If journalists are going to be reporting the statistics government feeds them, it shouldn’t take a couple folks chatting on Twitter to get at a relatively obvious disclaimer.

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