Covid 19 and US Mortality by I. Ratel
Let me preface this by saying that I’m not a statistician. I’m not an epidemiologist, nor am I a medical doctor, or even a schmuck with an undergrad in biology. My degrees are in Industrial Management and Automotive Technology. I am a long term organ transplant recipient who has lived with being immunocompromised long enough to take interest in these subjects because disease activity has more potential impact on me than on the average person.
I’ve been watching CDC’s flu surveillance since last fall when there were rumors floating about of a nasty new flu bug in China. That’s not that unusual, there seems to always be rumors of nasty new bugs in China. According to the South China Post the first COVID-19 case in Hubei province China was found November 17. Even that article states that patient zero may have been earlier than that. This page on FlightRadar24.com shows the Wuhan Tianhe airport serves many domestic and international routes. I contend that it is reasonable to believe that the SARS-COV-2 virus began circulating around the global population back in November and December, spreading not only across China, but to much of the world.
When considering that possibility patterns in CDC’s regular ILI (Influenza Like Illness) surveillance data become interesting. I’ve taken their data, and applied my meager Excel skills to chart out some things that surprised me. Going into this, I expected to see mortality rates somewhere bump. Prior to January we weren’t looking for this virus. We’ve only had useful testing capability for a few weeks now. Given the information we have on disease progression, I assumed that there would be an upward trend in Pneumonia mortality as without looking for and testing for SARS-COV-2, victims should have been classified as deaths due to pneumonia. So I charted it, with the last 6 years of data published by CDC.
CDC calls week 40 of a year the beginning of the flu season, so all my charts are set to begin in week 40 of one year and end in week 39 of the next, showing years as flu seasons.
There is the customary increase at week 1, I assume related to holiday festivities and travel. However the 2019-2020 season shows week by week pneumonia mortality to be low compared to the last few years, which is not what I expected. What I truly did not expect was the sharp decline over the last few weeks.
I next looked at all-cause mortality. Perhaps COVID-19 deaths hadn’t been captured in the pneumonia data. But surely something this virulent would show somewhere. I was again, surprised.
We see here that all-cause mortality ran on the high side of normal until it started to drop at the beginning of 2020, and recently dropped significantly. Again, no indication of this virus killing people beyond seasonal norms.
There is one other salient point that stands out in my sifting of data. Healthcare visits for ILI. [Influenza Like Illness.]
Here we see that people in the US have been seeing their doctors for influenza like illness at higher levels than normal. The recent upswing can be explained by the current panic, but prior to that? Most likely it’s more people getting sick enough with respiratory infections to see the doctor.
There is a lot more data available from CDC. I’ve ignored all the confirmed influenza data, because a lab confirmed influenza case is not a COVID-19 case. I haven’t seen much else available that should show indicators of COVID-19 beyond what I’ve illustrated here. These are inelegant numbers, just showing totals, not adjusted to rates per capita or anything else, it was just an attempt to see possible trends from a high level.
As to conclusions, there isn’t enough data for any concrete conclusion. Looking at this logically, IF there have been COVID-19 cases in the US since December, it doesn’t appear to have been deadly enough to have been very noticeable. Please note that I am NOT saying “this is just another flu.” We know that it’s quite virulent in certain populations like me; likely several times more deadly than the “normal” respiratory bugs that circulate every winter. All that I am stating is that by the data I see right now it is not causing excess mortality beyond seasonal norms when looked at in total with all causes of death.
There are a myriad of possibilities that can be examined over the next few weeks as we get more data, but I will leave the in depth analysis to people better suited to it than I am. As for me, I’m not taking precautions beyond what I already do every flu season. I have my towel, and intend to follow the advice of the Hitchhiker’s Guide: “Don’t panic.”
[I was trying to add the author’s excel files for download by those who want to examine the data, but it simply will not let me. I will email them to anyone who pings me privately, but I’m going to put images below and hope they work. They MIGHT be too small or unclear to read. BTW the author and I had several “people who know better than us” look at the charts, and it remains a mystery. No, we don’t know what’s going on. We know it makes no sense. – SAH]
US Flu season mortality 1 2013-2020