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September 23, 2020
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Covid-19 by the numbers

By: Cassandra May Albaugh
March 27, 2020

Are you like me? Feeling overwhelmed by the daily updates of cases and deaths; by country, state and county? Top line numbers grow; but, what do they mean other than it’s not good and it’s liable to get worse. What’s the context? How do they compare with other places? I’ll cover the latest numbers, but I’ll also try to put them in some type of context. Bear with me, I’m analytical, but I am by no means an expert. As always continue to rely on reliable sources.

My numbers are as of late evening, Sunday March 22 using John Hopkins University (JHU) tracking dashboard. They are reporting 332,577 cases, 14,490 deaths. Back of the envelope calculations indicates a worldwide 4.3% rate of deaths to cases. What about California? JHU shows 1,642 cases, with 30 deaths. The death rate is currently 1.8 percent. How about Sonoma County? From the Sonoma County Emergency Services Dashboard, we get 24 cases and 1 death; a 4.2 percent death rate, but it’s based on a very small sample size.

So, what does that really tell us? A week ago, Sonoma County had but a few cases and no deaths. In a linear, raw data sense – yikes, the numbers are growing. We should follow the guidelines. Stay home except for essential activities; wash your hands; don’t touch your face; maintain social distance if you do venture out. We certainly want to stop the spread of the virus and protect especially our vulnerable citizens. But do we really know what these top line numbers mean?

In my research I ran across other data besides just the growth of cases and deaths. For example, deaths per million is being used as a comparison between nations. It’s not just based on cases and deaths. It uses population also. Intuitively we know as more folks are tested; the raw numbers of cases are going to go up. More cases mean more deaths. However, we are starting to see in the China data – the initially reported death rate went down. More cases and recoveries, thus death rate percentages dropped. Let’s compare four countries using these deaths per million numbers. 

China has the most confirmed cases with 81,054 and the second highest death total at 3,261. But China has 1.396 billion citizens. Using a per million lens gives them 58.2 cases and 2.3 deaths per million. Italy, on the other hand, only has a population of 61-62 million. They have the second highest number of confirmed cases at 59,158 and highest deaths to date at 5,476. Therefore, the numbers are staggering at 978.6 cases and 10.6 deaths per million. What about us? Our population is almost 329 million. We’re now third in cases with 32,783. Currently we have 416 deaths. Each is increasing day-by- day. The deaths per million numbers are also increasing. A couple of days ago it was just .9. Now it’s 1.3 and 100.3 cases per million. We passed Spain in total cases. But Spain only has a population of 48.6 million. They have 28,603 confirmed cases and 1,756 deaths. Their per million numbers are 612.2 cases and 37.6 per million deaths.

So, does following the raw numbers help us understand the extent of the pandemic in the world, our nation, or state? We know as more folks get tested; more cases will be confirmed. More cases likely mean growing deaths too. But will these top line numbers, which can only grow higher, help us understand our risks or do we need more context like the “per million” numbers? The raw numbers won’t really tell us if China has past the peak; they can only grow perhaps more slowly. If we follow the “per million” comparison will we see them flattening the curve? The top line numbers aren’t likely to tell you and I much about where we’re at either. Are we to be the next Italy, or will the steps we’ve taken keep our “per million” numbers below the rest of the world? That’s the trend I want to watch.

There is a lot we just don’t know yet. We won’t for some time. Has China passed the peak? Why has Italy been so hard hit? Are they the worst case scenario? Is Spain the next Italy, or are we? We just don’t know. Don’t panic as the numbers increase because they will. More testing, more cases. Be prudent about sheltering in place, practicing social distance, washing our hands and avoiding touching our faces. I’ll be watching the “per million” numbers. How are they changing? Are they increasing, staying stable, or decreasing? Let’s check back next week and see what the trend is. Until then, follow the advice of our state, county and city leaders. Better safe than sorry isn’t bad advice to follow.