There is a lot of hype, a lot of politics, and a lot of unknown when it comes to COVID-19. Sometimes math is the best way to find an objective perspective because numbers don’t lie (unless people lie about the numbers). These 5 charts and maps will give you some insight and help you better monitor the news you hear about COVID-19.
Confirmed Cases and Real Numbers
This is a screenshot of the map at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) web site yesterday (March 16, 2020). The US currently has more than 6,400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 109 deaths from the virus. According to the CDC there is at least one confirmed COVID-19 case in every state, with the exception of West Virginia – the lone sparkle of gleaming whiteness on this map.
What does this tell us? One of two possibilities is demonstrated here.
- Possibility #1: West Virginia has taken exceptional steps and measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 across their borders and the local healthcare system is far outpacing the rest of the country.
- Possibility #2: West Virginia is running behind the rest of the country in identifying and reporting their possible cases of COVID-19.
*West Virginia officially reported a case this evening and COVID-19 has now spread to all 50 states.
The takeaway here is that the daily confirmed case reporting is a convenient way to track the spread of the virus but it is not an accurate accounting for how sweeping COVID-19 is. Scientists studying the data coming out of China said that for every one confirmed report of COVID-19 there are 5 to 10 unconfirmed reports. That transforms China’s more than 80,000 confirmed cases into 400,000 to 800,000 cases of COVID-19.
This also means many of us have already come in contact with someone who has the virus and could possibly be carriers ourselves at this point.
Why Passing the 80,000 Mark Was a Big Deal
Chinese authorities first reported the emergence of a new respiratory illness with pneumonia-like symptoms in the city of Wuhan on December 31, 2019. On January 11, the first death from the new virus in China was reported and there were 41 confirmed cases. By February 29 the total number of confirmed cases in China had grown to more than 75,000. By that point, China was finally reporting a decline in the number of new cases daily. It was also beginning to spread to the rest of the world by February 29.
It took China two months to get to 75,000. Beginning March 1, we began tracking the daily total of confirmed cases globally minus China. (You can see these kinds of stats that I send out via Twitter almost daily.) The idea behind the number was to measure how long it took the globe to reach 80,000 – China’s eventual total. If it was fast, that signaled containment efforts were failing. If it was slow or even in the same time span as China, that meant China overreacted with what the media frequently called “draconian” measures of lockdown in Wuhan and Hubei province.
We have the answer to the question. By March 15, the global count of confirmed cases surpassed 80,000. Let’s repeat that measurement. Between December 31, and February 29, China’s confirmed case count grew from 11 to 75,000. That took 60 days. The global confirmed cases outside of China grew from approximately 5,000 cases on February 29, to more than 80,000 in two weeks.
The lesson is very clear. Global containment strategies are not working. As the epicenter of the pandemic moved from China to Europe in the last two weeks we have learned that, far from working, global containment strategies are demonstrating incredible levels of failure.
China was effective at stopping and turning the pandemic back, it appears, because of the draconian measure that so many of us in the west were offended by one month ago. Those measures are virtually impossible in western democracies like the United States. It is therefore very possible that we will see a much more devastating experience in the rest of the world than what China experienced.
Mortality Rate Is the Number To Watch
The mortality rate equals total deaths divided by total confirmed reports. The World Health Organization (WHO) placed the global mortality rate for COVID-19 at 3.4% based upon data observed in China. That does not mean that 3.4% is what can be expected. Notice the differences in each of these countries.
There are several reasons for the discrepancies from country to country. The first is the age of the confirmed cases. The longer the virus is present, the more people die and the higher the mortality rate is. So nations like the US, France and the UK can expect their mortality rates to increase.
This chart tracking the first 10 weeks in China demonstrates this. The count of confirmed cases went up but the death count raised because the length of time COVID-19 was present increased along with those confirmed cases. It is relatively new to Europe and the US. We are seeing a boom in confirmed cases in these countries. We can anticipate a boom, about two weeks away, in death counts and the mortality rate.
Age of the COVID-19 Victims
Another factor that drives the mortality rate up is the age of the population. This is what is happening in Italy. COVID-19 strikes the older populations hardest. For years we have heard of the economic problems of the aging demographics in Europe, and to a lesser extent in the US. Now we are seeing a whole new cause for these concerns.
One number among these groups of mortality rates in the charts above to discount is Iran’s. Iran is not providing accurate information about their confirmed cases or their deaths by COVID-19. Iran has been the central source of the spread of the virus throughout the Middle East. It is very likely their numbers are worse than Italy’s right now.