Is the Coronavirus Saving Lives?

You may have seen references to the fact that, despite the fact that some people obviously have died from the Wuhan virus, overall deaths in the U.S. are actually lower over the last few months than they have been in recent years. I tried to track down the numbers on this, and (courtesy of a reader) found a spread sheet from the Centers for Disease Control. (Hit the “Download” button at the bottom of the page.)

As I understand the spread sheet, it is intended to show flu deaths, pneumonia deaths, and total deaths in the U.S. on a week by week basis from late 2015 to the present. I take it that the number in column E is the week for that calendar year; they run from 1 to 52, and presumably week 1 is the first week in January. I don’t see any other plausible way to read the CDC spread sheet.

So I added up the total deaths in the U.S. from week 1 in 2020 through week 14, the last week for which the CDC has published full numbers. (Week 15 is reported with incomplete numbers.) Week 14, as I read the calendar, would take us through either April 3 or April 10. The total number of deaths in the U.S. for weeks 1 through 14 this year–the year of the coronavirus–is 772,085.

Now do the same for the first 14 weeks of 2019. According to the CDC, as I read the spread sheet, there were 809,704 deaths in the U.S. over the same time period last year. That’s right: through the first 14 weeks of the year, through April 3 or April 10, however the CDC counts the weeks, there were 37,619 fewer deaths this year than last, despite our supposedly being in the grip of the greatest health crisis since the Spanish flu.

How can this be? Some have suggested that the fact that most of us are staying home has reduced the number of traffic fatalities, on-the-job accidents, and perhaps other causes of death. But there are only around 3,000 traffic fatalities per month, and the other causes that have been suggested are far smaller. Collectively, reductions in those causes of death would account for only a portion of the reduced fatality numbers, even if COVID-19 had not killed anyone at all.

Low fatality rates for 2020 are, at this point, a mystery. However, assuming I am reading the CDC spread sheet correctly, one thing is clear: there are nowhere near as many deaths actually caused by COVID-19 as government sources claim. If the Wuhan flu had really killed 40,000 or so people who would not otherwise have died over the last 14 weeks, it would be obvious in the overall mortality statistics. The fact that no such effect is visible–that, astonishingly, the death rate has actually declined–is consistent only with the assumption that not many people have died from COVID-19 who would not have died anyway, at about the same time.

This fits with the fact that the CDC has liberalized the criteria for scoring COVID-19 deaths, and the fact that such deaths are heavily concentrated among the elderly and severely compromised. If a person in a cancer ward dies after testing positive for coronavirus, or maybe after not being tested but just exhibiting respiratory symptoms, as I understand it, that person is recorded as a COVID-19 death.

There is no way the overall mortality statistics can make sense unless a great many alleged coronavirus deaths are actually people who would have died at the same time, regardless, from other causes. But that said, there is still a mystery here: why would there be 37,000+ fewer deaths this year than last year?

The Black Death killed around one-half of the population of Europe, beginning in 1347. It took 200 years for Europe’s population to rebound to the pre-Black Death level. If you relied on the “mainstream” press for information, or the self-important briefings by various governors, you would think that we are living through a modern-day Black Death. And yet, fewer people are dying in the U.S. than last year, or in previous years. (Check out the CDC’s spread sheet and do the math.) Something strange is going on here. COVID-19 obviously doesn’t prolong life, but why are fewer people dying this year than last year?

If you have an answer to that question, or you think I am misreading the CDC’s spread sheet, please respond in the comments.

Responses