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Editorial: How are our sister cities doing with the pandemic?

Editorial: How are our sister cities doing with the pandemic?

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Virus infection rates in the United States are coming down. They’re still among the highest in the world, far higher than in most developed nations, but they are coming down. Thank you, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

In Brazil, though, virus rates are surging. That South American country now has the second-highest total number of cases and the second-highest number of virus-related deaths in the world. While Brazil represents less than 3% of the world’s population, it now accounts for about 25% of the world’s virus-related death toll. Reuters reports that cemeteries are burying so many dead that they’re now forced to hold some funerals at home to accommodate the crush of mourners.

Oh, it also has a political crisis.

That made us wonder: How are things in Roanoke’s sister city in Brazil? Roanoke has seven sister cities around the world, some more famous than others. Wonju, South Korea, gets most of the attention because there’s a small but important street in Roanoke named in its honor. Florianopolis isn’t so acclaimed but is a sister city nonetheless.

Here’s what we can report: Florianopolis isn’t doing well. The metro area of 1.11 million is the capital of Santa Catarina, a seaside state in southern Brazil. The New York Times once called Florianopolis “the Party Destination of the Year” and Newsweek once named it one of “Ten most dynamic cities of the world.” A Brazilian magazine declared it “the best place to live in Brazil.” Florianopolis is, apparently, a happening place. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is happening there, too, at some pretty bad rates.

According to the Brazilian Ministry of Health, the state that Florianopolis is in has one of the highest virus rates in the country — 11,479 per 100,000 people at last report. By contrast, the rate in Roanoke is 8,023. That might not sound so bad except for this crucial understanding of context: Roanoke’s rate is, at least, lower than the national average of 9,211 which, as we keep pointing out, is one of the highest in the world. If Santa Catarina were a country, it wouldn’t be far behind the tiny European principality of Andorra, which currently has the world’s highest infection rate at 15,652. By contrast — we keep coming back to this contrast — the rate in Canada is 2,666. Canadians have done a far better job than we have at controlling the virus and we’ve done a somewhat better job than Brazilians have.

In January, Public Radio International reported how Brazilians were ignoring the virus — and paying a deadly price. That report was centered on … yes, Florianopolis. At the time it was summer in the southern hemisphere and people were flocking to the city’s beaches. Hotels were at full capacity, PRI reported, and thousands were crowding unmasked (and sometimes un-other things) on the beaches. That was then, this is now: Virus rates are up 8% in the past two weeks and deaths are up 48%. Actions have consequences, and sometimes not just for yourself.

The dire reports out of Florianopolis made us wonder: How are Roanoke’s other sister cities faring during the pandemic? So we checked. In many cases, we couldn’t find data for a specific city, but could for its state, province or however the country divides itself up. Sometimes, though, we could only find country-level data. Nonetheless:

Wonju, South Korea. You won’t want to hear this but you need to. In Wonju’s Gangwon-do province, the virus rate is only 152 per 100,000. That’s one of the lowest rates in a country that already has one of the world’s lowest virus rates. Here’s the thing: South Korea and the United States reported their first virus cases on the same day. The difference is that South Korea’s government acted quickly and ours did not. Even though the country had just four reported cases, the South Korean government summoned representatives from 20 medical companies to leave their lunar New Year celebration and attend an emergency meeting. They did. Within a week, South Korea had testing and other containment measures in place. The virus never gained much of a foothold there. Even though less than 0.1% of the population is now fully vaccinated, South Korea is operating more or less normally. If we had acted more like South Korea, maybe we would be, too. The whole province, with a population of 1.6 million, has recorded just 47 virus deaths. By contrast, Alleghany County, with a population of 14,933, has recorded 48.

Kisumu, Kenya. Kenya also has one of the lowest infection rates in the world — just 261 per 100,000. And Kisumu has one of the lowest rates in the country, with just 2,648 cases ever recorded in a county of 610,082. By contrast, Smyth County has recorded 2,639 cases in a county of 30,068.

Saint-Lo, France. France is running an infection rate of 6,993 per 100,000 or, for comparison purposes, lower than almost every part of Virginia, although not necessarily that much lower. Out of a population of 498,362, the Manche department where Saint-Lo is has seen 287 deaths. That’s on a par with Loudoun County, which has a population of 418,690 and has logged 270 deaths.

Opole, Poland. Poland’s national infection rate is about the same as France — 6,206. Out of a population of 984,345 the province where Opole is has recorded 50,394 cases and 1,448 deaths. That puts it roughly akin to Fairfax County. Out of a population of 1.14 million, Fairfax has recorded 71,805 cases and 1,039 deaths.

Pskov, Russia. Russia says it’s running a much lower infection rate than most countries — 3,117 per 100,000. Out of a population of 673,962, the Pskov Oblast has reported 33,962 cases and 227 deaths. By comparison, Virginia Beach is smaller (population 454,994) but has roughly the same number of cases and more deaths (364).

Lijiang, China. Although the pandemic began in China, China now reports some of the lowest infection rates in the world. You can disbelieve that if you want but it’s consistent with other countries on the Pacific Rim, from South Korea to New Zealand, all of which have done a far better job than Europe or the Americas. China now claims a rate of just 7 per 100,000. The Yunnan province is home to 48.3 million but reports just 235 total cases and only two deaths.

Blacksburg also has a sister city — San José de Bocay, Nicaragua. That country is running an infection rate of 103 per 100,000 and just 178 deaths in the whole nation since the pandemic began. Roanoke alone has 180. The bottom line: Of all our sister cities, only Florianopolis is doing worse than we are and most are doing much better. Why is this?

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