10,000 deaths

We crossed the threshold of 1000 COVID deaths this evening. As I start to write this post, the tracker shows 1045. I’ve focused mostly on the growth rate of cases thus far, so let me switch to deaths.

Deaths are the saddest part of all this, though it’s the hospitalizations that stand to overwhelm our systems. I live outside a town of about 5000 people. So the number of deaths is about 20% of my town’s population. Thinking about it in those terms makes it a bit more real. Even more real, I learned today that there is at least one case (not death) associated with our town, and at least one more in the next town upriver. We don’t get mail delivery at our house, I go to the Post Office weekly for mail and packages. It matters to me that people who may also need to go to that same place have tested positive. It makes it a bit more real and a bit less surreal.

I pointed out in a recent post that we now had more cases AND a higher growth rate than any other country at our stage – 21 days after the first 100 cases. We’re doing better than that on deaths, at least so far.

The graph below shows the number of deaths in each country for each day after their 10th death. The US is the pink line in the middle. You can see that our line is lower than all but a few countries’. Despite having more cases at this stage, we’ve had fewer deaths. That’s good, but there’s some worry too.

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This is a log graph, so the slope of the line corresponds to the percentage rate of growth. (Now you see why I wrote about how to read log graphs.) In fact, you can see the dotted lines whose angles correspond to different doubling periods. It’s the steepness of those dotted lines that is important, not their position. Any line that is as steep as one of those dotted lines will have the doubling period it’s labelled with.

You can see that we started out with a low angle compared to many countries. Our doubling period for deaths was somewhere between 3 and 7 days. But look at our line after day 12. It gets noticeably steeper and gets closer to the 3 day dotted line thereafter. That means our doubling period for deaths has decreased to something less than 3 days. That’s worrisome, especially compared to the slope of other lines near our stage. We’re growing faster than Italy, China, or Iran were at this point, and on a par with France and Spain who are about 3 days behind us. (Remember, we’re comparing the slopes of the lines, not whether they are above or below each other. Vertical position is number of deaths, slope is rate of growth.)

I’m not going to run a projection for deaths. There’s a lot more that can substantially impact the death growth rate than can substantially impact the case growth rate. The increase we see here may be due to more accurately classifying deaths as COVID related because of better testing. If someone dies of pneumonia, we don’t always know what caused it. If we aren’t testing for COVID, some deaths may just get classified as pneumonia rather than as COVID. I don’t think we’re yet to the point of a completely overwhelmed medical system, though that may eventually play a role.

So, I don’t have a lot of conclusions here. Each death is someone’s loved one, each leaves a trail of individual grief. That’s about as real as it gets.

Stay safe, stay home, and be careful with those you love and those who love you.

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