UC Berkeley study finds U.S. ranks poorly in global COVID-19 responses

Photo of public mask-wearing notice
Eliana Marcu/Staff
According to an index created by the Othering and Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley, the United States ranks 161 out of 172 countries in regards to its COVID-19 response. Vermont ranked first domestically for its COVID-19 response.

Related Posts

The United States’ COVID-19 response has been ranked poorly among its global peers in an index created by UC Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute.

This index ranked the United States 161st out of 172 countries measured, according to study co-author Stephen Menendian, citing the country’s “fractured” response, which also coincided with former president Donald Trump’s tenure.

Despite the country’s poor global rating overall, Menendian, who is assistant director and director of research at the institute, said the index found great disparities among states themselves. Domestically, Vermont was ranked first for its COVID-19 response.

Ordinarily, the index — which is in its fifth year — uses a variety of dimensions, such as race and gender, as lenses for analyzing inclusiveness in the context of “key global themes,” Menendian said. This year, COVID-19 responses were included in the index along with the normal study, Menendian added.

The toll of COVID-19, Menendian said, was taken into account using three key indicators. Those included rates of infection, death rates and testing per 100,000 people through December of last year.

Menendian credited the United States’ inconsistent public health policies, such as the absence of mask mandates and social distancing procedures in some states, as cause for such varied rankings across the country.

“The states that have notoriously bad public health responses — that’s reflected in our rankings,” Menendian said.

Along with infection rates, Menendian pointed toward high death rates as reflective of both state public health leadership and certain populations’ predisposition to developing more serious infections.

The vulnerability of certain populations facing high comorbidity rates, such as diabetes or respiratory illness, according to Menendian, is also reflected in certain segments of the country’s population, including Black, Latinx and Indigenous groups.

An interactive heat map also published by the institute echoed such racial disparities in both COVID-19 infection and death rates. The map depicted the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on Black and Latinx communities nationwide.

As of the map’s most recent update in November, particularly disparate death rates appear to be found in states such as Kansas, Michigan and Louisiana. 

Additionally, the index itself cited the ongoing pandemic as a moment for reflection on inequity.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis created a perfect storm to test national commitments and resolve around inclusion and equity,” the study reads.

With such existing inequity being exacerbated, Menendian said he hopes the index, which he characterized as “a diagnostic tool,” is used by human rights groups both abroad and in the United States in their advocacy work.

Menendian said the index will be helpful, especially given what he describes as its unique approach.

“We are creating a holistic ranking,” Menendian said. “It’s unique, and there’s nothing that exists quite like it.”

Contact Hanna Lykke at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hannaathearstDC.