Undercounting Infections and Deaths


I’ve been having a long discussion with a nonbeliever over on Quora. He’s convinced the virus is real but the deaths are made up propaganda, and as such the government shut downs are unnecessary. It’s a challenge to convince people like that of reality, when they refute all sources of data.

Part of what leads to such denials is the fact that the data is in fact wrong. But it is wrong as in the infection rate and death count are minimal estimates. The first few studies of the actual infection rate are showing up, and what they all agree on is that the official confirmed cases are undercounting by a lot. Of these, the most interesting looked at 215 pregnant women admitted to hospitals in New York City. That clearly isn’t a representative sample, but it demonstrates how many people are infected with no symptoms.

As for deaths, that is easier to count. Before the pandemic, people died, and cities and counties kept those statistics. We thus know how many people on average die in a given month. Here’s what that looks like for the last 20 years in New York City:

The spike for 9/11 is visible. The spike for Cornavirus is far scarier. 9,780 deaths between March 3rd and April 4th. How many were from the virus? Officially, 3,350. That leaves an extra 5,330 above the “normal” rate of death for this time of year.

There isn’t a heat wave. It’s too soon for lockdown starvation. These are thus either people dying at home or on the way to the hospital suffering from Covid-19, or people dying from other causes either too scared to go to the hospital, waiting too long for the busy medics to arrive, or not getting the care they would have received two months ago, as the hospitals are clearly busy beyond all historic precedent.

Maybe that missing New York City data makes this analysis flawed? Not a problem, The Economist published a similar analysis including France, Spain, England, Netherlands, and the Lombardy region of Italy. They too all show excess deaths that are not attributed to Covid-19:

And what about the poorer countries that can’t afford extensive testing? That data is still scarce, but the same Economist article includes some data from Indonesia and it shows an even smaller number of extraneous deaths are attributed to the virus.

No matter the actual cause, what is clear is that the official count of 42,000 American dying from Covid-19 so far is not reality, nor the global number of 170,000. Reality is probably already past 100,000 in the U.S. and will soon past 500,000 globally.

Reality is that it’ll be 2021 before we have a good estimate, and we’ll never actually know the true count.

By "Luni"


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