28 July 2020

Food for thought: A Preliminary Historical Perspective on the Current Pandemic

Chuck Spinney, 27 July 2020

Sources: CDC (1, 2, 3, 4), Our World in Data Corona Virus Explorer 

  1. In terms of total deaths, Covid-19 (145,546 deaths as of 25 Jul) now ranks as the second most largest US death experience since 1918 (675,000), but US population has increased three-fold since 1918.  On a per capita basis, death rates to date clearly do not come close to comparing to the 1918 Pandemic. 
  2. In terms of per capita death rates, the US experience in 1918-19 (0.625%) was much less intense (so far by a factor of 14!) than that for the entire world (2.7%).
  3. In terms of per-capita deaths to date, the US death rate in the Covid-19 pandemic (0.044%) ranks as the 4th most severe since 1918 (0.625%), well behind 1957 (0.066%) and slightly behind 1969 (0.049%) pandemics.
  4. In contrast to 1918, in terms of per capita death rates, the US experience in 1958, 1968, and 2020 (as of 25 Jul) has been and continues to be significantly WORSE than that for the rest of the world (although some of the world Covid-19 numbers are far more incomplete than US data. (See also graphic beneath table.)

While it is easy to blame the sorry US response to Covid 19 on President Trump’s clear incompetence in dealing with the crisis, the relative deterioration in US per capita death rates compared to other parts of world may have deeper, longer-term roots.