Most COVID-19 deaths in the US could have been avoided

Posted In: Health

The US coronavirus death rate is quite high compared to other countries (on a population-corrected basis)

US coronavirus deaths have surpassed 300,000. Many of these deaths could have been avoided if swift action had been taken in February and March, as many other countries did. This graph shows an rough estimate of the number of US deaths that could have been avoided if the US had acted similar to other countries.

This graph takes the rate of coronavirus deaths by country (normalized to their population size) and imagines what would happen if the US had had that death rate, instead of its own. It then applies that reduction (or increase) in death rate to the total number of deaths that the US has experienced. The US death rate is about 600/million people in September 2020 and if a country has a death rate of 60/million people, then 90% of US deaths (about 180,000 people) could have been avoided if the US had matched their death rate. The government response to the pandemic is one of several important factors that determine the number of cases and deaths in a country. This means proper messaging about the need to wear masks and socially distance as well as providing payments to citizens and business to help them during the economic shutdown. Other important factors can include the overall health of the population, the population structure (i.e. age distribution of population), ease of controlling borders to prevent cases from entering the country, presence of universal or low-cost health care system, and relative wealth and education of the population.

The graph lets you compare the potential reduction in US deaths when looking at 30 different countries. You can choose those 30 countries based on total population, GDP or GDP per capita. These give somewhat different sets of countries to compare death rates, which is an indication of the effectiveness of the coronavirus response.

A valid criticism of this graph is that testing and data collection is very different in each of the countries shown and the comparisons are not always valid. This is definitely a problem with all coronavirus data but for the most part, the very large differences between death rates would still exist even if data collection were totally standardized. Some of the data from the poorest countries is less reliable, because they have less testing capabilities.

Source and Tools:
Data on coronavirus deaths by country is from and downloaded and cleaned with a python script. Graph is made using the plotly open source javascript library.

avoidable us coronavirus deaths

1 Comment »

One Response to Most COVID-19 deaths in the US could have been avoided

  1. This is rather disingenuous as it assumes that variation between countries is mostly explained by policy interventions, which is a hypothesis that has very weak evidence to support it:

    Quite disappointing that this infographic is included alongside other excellent visualisations on your website.

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