Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Eleven Days in May

Amidst all the hype surrounding the coronavirus, I thought it would be useful to find some perspective on how bad it really is. One of the big problems with the reporting is that everyone seems to have a different way to count who actually died of it, or who got it and died for some some other reason.
One good way to finesse the issue is simply to look at the numbers of people who died from any reason at all, and see if that is significantly different from before the virus got loose.
There is a very informative page at the CDC website which lists exactly that.
Here is the graph it shows for the past few years:

Note several things it shows you: on an average, about 56,000 Americans die every week. There is an annual cycle that varies this by about 10%. The statistically significant border, (orange line) is about 2000 higher than the average; what that means is that variations lower than the line are to be expected and shouldn't be interpreted as proving anything.
Back in the winter of '18 we had a bad flu season and deaths broke through the line for about a month. We can compare that to the current peak and say several things. First, the coronavirus is definitely worse than even a bad flu season. But it's a judgement call whether it's enough worse to be considered a qualitatively different thing.
Second, the effect of the virus is very different from place to place. Here is New York City (you can call up all these from the page):

Yikes. The virus was an unmitigated disaster there. But look at, say, North Carolina:

There is no discernible impact from the virus at all. (Note that the falloff in the last few weeks, in all the graphs, is not real and an artifact of reporting lag.)

So what does this all mean? Raw numbers of deaths need a bit of perspective themselves. Here's a graph of how long you can expect to live as an American:

It works like this: God picks a point for you on the left axis, and you extend a line out horizontally until you hit the curve, at which point you die.
It turns out that given the numbers above, we can calculate where the curve would be given the coronavirus. In fact, I have done so, and the results are shown in the red line on the above graph. Can't see it? Neither can I; it's only 11 days shorter than the original black one. You have to zoom in to a scale of a couple of years even to see the difference:

The best way to think about the virus for the US population as a whole is that it has cost each of us 11 days of life. For most of us, that's in the noise. If you are in New York, or way out to the right side nearing the curve, it looms larger.

1 comment:

  1. Except nothing guarantees we all won’t slowly turn into NYC. If you get this, you don’t lose 11 days of life expectancy but roughly 1 year, in the sense your risk is about one year of aging at your age.

    We’re not done. Official stats are 1.7 million infections, but I’m guessing for 100,000 deaths more like 2.5 million. You get 1 death per 250 infections in the general population.

    If we eventually infect 50% of the country we will get 160 million infections. So 640,000 deaths. So one Spanish flu or Civil War. We have 2.8 million baseline. Death-rate goes up 23% for a year, then we’re done.