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COVID mortality rate in context

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Posted at 6:00 PM, Dec 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-15 13:04:06-05

HELENA — A meme has been making the rounds on social media comparing recent daily COVID-19 related deaths to other mass-casualty events in American history. While the recent daily death totals for COVID-19 in the United States are a grave reminder of how many lives are being lost to the pandemic, the data need to be put into context.

According to data compiled by John Hopkins University of Medicine, one of the primary national and worldwide COVID tracking systems, the United States experienced four of the deadliest days of the pandemic at the beginning of December. There were 2,861 COVID deaths reported on December 3; 2,762 deaths reported on December 2; 2,461 deaths reported Decemeber 1; and 2,439 deaths reported on December 4.

The number of COVID lives each day lost are sobering when compared to some of the worst casualty events in the United States.

Nearly two decades ago 2,977 people died during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. 2,403 American lives were lost during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. At the Battle of Antietam in 1862, 3,650 Union and Confederate soldiers died. The 1900 Galveston hurricane is considered the deadliest natural disaster in the nation's history, with an estimated death toll of between 6,000 and 12,000 people. And an estimated 3,000 people died during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

However, those events were acts of war, acts of terror, or natural disasters condensed in one place. COVID-19 is a virus that is affecting millions of Americans across the country.

COVID mortality rate in context

In 2018, mortality data from the CDC indicated around 7,700 Americans die every day from a multitude of causes. Heart disease kills around 1,795 people in the United States each day on average. The average daily deaths for cancer in the country is 1,641 lives. Accidents can be attributed to about 457 daily deaths and suicides represent around 132 deaths each day in the U.S.

Montana follows similar trends with the state averaging around 24.3 deaths each day in a standard year. The average death rate for heart disease is 5.92 a day, caner accounts for 5.8 deaths a day, 2.06 daily deaths are attributed to Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease, accidents account for 1.58 deaths, and 0.85 deaths each day in the state are linked to suicide.

Influenza is tracked by season, with an estimated 34,000 influenza related deaths in the United States reported in the 2018-2019 flu season.

The United States has averaged around 910 COVID deaths a day since the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in January 2020, and now totaling more than 300,000 deaths. Montana has averaged three COVID deaths a day since the first cases were reported in the state in March, totaling more than 800 deaths.

The United States has seen an exponential rise in COVID deaths in recent months. For just the month of November the number of daily COVID deaths in the U.S. averaged around 1,300 people every day. Montana’s daily COVID death average for November was 10.67 people; with more than 300 deaths directly linked to COVID that month in the state.

Chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes greatly increase the risk of having a serious reaction to the coronavirus that can then lead to hospitalization or death.

The CDC tracks excess deaths, deaths that are above the yearly averages, to gain a better perspective on any given public health crisis.

From January through October in 2020 the United states had 299,000 more deaths than in a typical year during that time frame. Two out of three excess deaths this year have been associated with COVID according to the CDC.

Comparing the COVID-19 pandemic to the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic can also be problematic. Both diseases affected age groups very differently and the 2020 pandemic has the benefit of modern medicine and worldwide communication. The medical workers of the Spanish Flu pandemic also didn’t have ways of effectively treating the virus or developing a vaccine. The first influenza vaccine wouldn’t appear in the United States until the 1940s.