Why are Covid-19 Death Rates Apparently Much Higher Outside China?

PREAMBLE

I have not been spending a lot of time following the Coronavirus situation in the world other than following what is apparently the most reputable and up-to-date site for gathering and presenting statistics regarding confirmed cases, active cases, recovered cases and deaths: the John Hopkin’s University Coronavirus.

It’s a great site because you can zoom in on the red circles right down to the city and then click and get the most recent statistics.  Although it’s very difficult to establish how severe the casualties will be from a new virus when all is said and done, especially at such an early stage of the outbreak, but there has been a lot of “number crunching” going on to try to get a handle on what to expect as the virus spreads throughout the world.

I am neither an epidemiologist nor a statistician, so I’m drawing no conclusions from any of the information I’m presenting in this short post.  I’m really only sharing concerns and asking questions.

What’s the current death rate with coronavirus?

It is impossible to determine an accurate death rate for a new pathogen without knowing how many people are actually infected.  Once a virus has pretty much run its course in a particular city or given population – where most of the confirmed cases are no longer “active” but have either resulted in “recovery” or “death,” you can then get a much better sense of what the true death rate is with a particular outbreak.

It appears there are many places in China approaching that point where there are very few “active” cases remaining from a significant pool of infected people, so in those populations, it’s easier to determine what the death rate is.

There was initially a lot of people suggesting the death rate would likely be around 2%, however, the World Health Organization put it at around 3.5% in a report yesterday. I have no clue how that figure was arrived at but it is clear that in some places at least, the rate is much higher than 2%.

Early this morning, I watched a video of a group of people in Washington State talking about how the situation is out of control in a nursing home that has a Covid-19 outbreak.   I went to the John Hopkins site to see what the stats were in that location, especially to see what the ratio of recovered to deaths was  – knowing that the outbreak in China has been ongoing now for a couple of months and it’s really just getting going in North America..  I was shocked at what I discovered:

Washington

Out of just 51 people, only 1 person has recovered and 12 have already died, and the rest remain sick. Wow!

I then decided to randomly check a few other countries with red circles roughly the same size as Washington – or a little bigger – to see if there was any difference in the death/recovery ratios with active cases.  I knew there had been nearly 3,000 deaths in Wuhan, China, the place the outbreak began, so I wondered if those same death tolls happened with the outbreaks in surrounding cities.

I created the following graphic to show you the (rough) location of six cities around Wuhan, then pulled up the stats for each city from the John Hopkins website.  Again, I was shocked at the obvious difference with the stats in Washington:

China recovery stats

As you can see, most of the “active” cases in all of these cities have already recovered, with very few remaining people sick.

Perhaps what is happening in the first significant outbreak has such a high death rate because it’s a seniors center and they weren’t on top of it until it was too late for the first patients who contracted the virus to recover, so I thought I’d check a few other places outside of China:

Italy

In Italy, so far, it appears that for every 5 people who recover, 2 people, die.  Will that same ratio/trend continue?  I added up all the “active” cases in 5 cities in China (all above less Chongquing) giving a total of 4,460 active cases.  That’s roughly the same as the total number of cases in Italy.  I was curious to see what the outcomes would look like if the same ratio of recovered cases to deaths continues in both places, this is how that will compare with those 5 cities in China:

comparison

There’s got to be something wrong with these numbers – if they are tracking accurately, that would mean that the projected death rate in Italy – using the above comparison – would be nearly 50 times that of those 5 Chinese cities. How can China’s Health care system be that much better than the USA or Italy?

On the face of it, there appears to me to be a massive discrepancy with the death from what’s unfolding outside China, and although it’s impossible to know how things will unfold I suppose, it’s worth considering the data we have available to get at least some sense of what we are likely to see happen.

Like I say, I’m drawing no conclusions, but I’d love for someone with some expertise with epidemiology to explain the discrepancies in the apparent rate of people dying from this virus on different continents.

1 Response

  1. An American professor teaching in Beijing not long ago, gave a lecture on analysis to a graduate class. Midway through the lecture, realizing he had lost his audience, he asked “Ok. I can see something is wrong here. Can someone point out a problem in my analysis?” After a few awkward moments, one brave student asked “Where did you get your raw data?” “From Chinese government published stats.”. The class all started laughing at his obvious naive faith in Chinese stats. Does ANYONE believe China has ‘defeated’ the virus? Please!

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