It is hard to get a grasp on what is actually happening with COVID-19. Here are the latest facts as of 8/2/2020. Here are some fairly straight forward facts and data to help you understand where we are. While it is not a great, the U.S. not in nearly as dire straits as you might be lead to believe.

First a quick discussion of what metrics we are looking at and why. To start with the number of cases tested positive will not be used. This is because it is highly dependent on the number of test taken. For example if we have zero tests then we will report zero new detection…does that mean were getting better? No of course not. The metric we will use, while not perfect, is deaths due to COVID-19. This is a metric that is independent of number of tests etc. has the fewest variables and while not totally unbiased it is the best metric to use. Also we will focus deaths per million not total deaths per country. To look at total deaths is less useful due to the fact you would expect to see more deaths in larger population countries.

Percent of U.S. population that have died from COVID-19

The first metric to look at is the percentage of people who have died in the U.S. from this virus. This is fairly straight forward to calculate. As of this writing we have had 157000 up from 149000 deaths last week. The population of the United States is 330,022,000. To get the percentage you do the following math:

  • Deaths divided by population
  • 157000/330022000 = 0.00047
  • This number times 100 to get percent = 0.047%

To put this number in perspective here are the percentage deaths per year for other reasons. (CDC – 2017 U.S population 325.1 million)

  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 160,201 – 0.049%
  • Influenza and Pneumonia: 55,672 – 0.017%
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 146,383 – 0.045%

COVID-19 U.S deaths are basically three times the expected Influenza and Pneumonia amount thus far as compared to 2017. While this is not good news it is still fraction of a fraction of a percent.

COVID 19 deaths compared to other causes (CDC 2017)
COVID-19 deaths compared to other causes (CDC 2017)

Deaths per million

There have been many reports of how out of bed the U.S. is with respect to other countries, particularly European countries, with respect to deaths and progress in fighting the virus. These might make you to believe that the U.S. leads as the worst of the developed nations in managing the outbreak. Here are the actual numbers (Source Our World Data).

U.S. Cumulative total deaths compared to other countries

As you can see by the chart above the U.S. is not at the top of the list of countries in a metric that is reflective of how a country is doing overall. Indeed there are several countries one would think are doing much better than the U.S. in total if you listened to much of the media. These countries that are doing worse include Belgium, United Kingdom Sweden and the U.S. is on par with France.

Deaths per million, 7 day average

U.S. COVID-19 deaths compared to 7 day moving average of other countries

As you can see from the plot above the 7 day average COVID-19 death rate does not look as good when compared to other countries. What this shows is that recently the U.S. is not doing as well as some of the other European countries. It is not exponentially worse, but is diverged from them recently. Looking at the other areas the South American countries are faring much worse when compared to all other countries.

U.S. Flatten the curve?

In looking at the need to “flatten the curve” As you can see from the above plot of cumulative deaths over time you can easily see the very steep upward trend in the early days of the outbreak. As time goes on the curve did flatten, but not on par with most other countries. Recently the curve has had a steeper curve which is concerning. In deaths per million we have flattened the curve (see section above). One might wonder why the U.S. has the most deaths, that is a simple function of the fact we have a bigger population. I refer you to the section above on the deaths per million which gives a more accurate representation.

So where are we?

You can decide for yourself but in my humble opinion from looking at these metrics it is clear that the U.S. could be doing better but overall is on par with how other countries are doing. The fact that we are not improving is a concern. That said the picture is not nearly as bad as some would seem to think. The effort to flatten the curve has worked and we are no longer exponentially increasing in deaths over time, but we have not decreased the daily death rate enough. Remember when this all started we were predicted to have deaths in the millions in a very short time. Please let us know if this was helpful and if you think other metrics would be useful.