The Pandemic, Statistics, and Perspective

Death. There seems to have been a lot of it lately, at least in my experience. Funerals have been the order of the day.

I know. Your first thought will likely be of COVID-19 deaths. According to Johns Hopkins University, the United States, at this point, has suffered 219,282 deaths.

Of course, we’re awash in numbers as we try to get a perspective on this mess.  I found some particularly interesting. (But check me on them. Statistics are slippery.)

On an average year, between 34,000 and 43,000 people die due to the flu. According to an Associate Press article, the average of recent years was bumped up by the 2017-18 flu season, the “worst in forty years,” in which 80,000 people died. Half of that number would have counted as “an unusually bad year.” Mix together an unusually strong flu virus and an unusually ineffective flu vaccine, and you have a recipe for nothing good.

Even more recently, the CDC  (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimates that, before April 4, 2020, between 24,000 and 62,000 people had died in the 2019-2020 flu season.

You probably already know that the 1918 flu pandemic was epic and very deadly indeed. It actually lasted two years and estimates are that it killed 500,000 Americans.

What we generally see from the seasonal flu, notes Dr. Anthony Fauci, is a mortality rate of 0.1%. He also says, and this is probably what we’re most interested in right now (though dead is 100% dead), that the coronavirus is “ten times more lethal” than the flu.

And here’s a number for you. The worst pandemic in human history was the Black Death (the Plague) in the mid-fourteenth century that killed between 75 and 200 million people, a very significant portion of an estimated 450 million worldwide population.

But, the Big One aside, I’m not even sure how to evaluate the scads of other more recent numbers regularly tossed at us. A lot of estimating must be required. The CDC is well aware that many folks with relatively light cases of the flu never see a doctor during their manageable misery. My own opinion, almost completely worthless, I’m sure, is that many, many more folks have had COVID-19 than the official numbers indicate, and that affects the true mortality rate.

Some numbers may not surprise you, but they say a lot. As of early September, a total of 38,500 U.S. military personnel had contracted the virus; seven had died. A single nursing home in Brooklyn had 55 deaths and many states report that over half their pandemic deaths are in assisted living and nursing home facilities.

It’s become quite clear that, though we see mostly the same data, we filter it through our own political and social lenses. I don’t want anyone to die from flu or COVID-19, but I must confess that the flu’s 0.1% mortality rate doesn’t worry me much. Nor, if I’m honest, for me personally, does COVID-19’s higher number. I figure it’s good to be prudent, and I’ve long thought that, for a guy who likes to sing for people, a little germophobia and the consequent frequent hand-washing, etc., is not so much a phobia as it is good common sense, pandemic or not.

And yet all of our views on this are skewed in so many ways for so many reasons. Do you know someone—do you love someone—who has died from COVID-19? Do you know someone left with serious health issues? Then one is far too many.

Statistics are crazy. What to make of them?

Here’s one. In the United States, we have 331,002,651 people and have had 8,390,547 COVID-19 cases.

Here’s another statistic that presently frightens me. Out of those 331 million folks, a bunch (that’s a seriously technical statistical term) belong to two political parties who have chosen the two candidates for president—presumably, their best options, which I find 100% statistically horrifying. One now has no logical need at all to wear a mask, though a mask with a mute button or a filter would help him garner more votes. The other is likely to drown in his shower as he waterboards himself. I figure he wears his mask even under running water.

In the midst of all this barrage of statistics, one stat gives me comfort. I’m 100% sure I know the One who brings us from death to life and breathes into us the only health that ultimately matters. I have 100% confidence in our real King.

    You’re invited to visit my website, and I hope you’ll take a look there at my new “Focus on Faith” Podcast. At the website, just click on “Podcast.” Blessings!

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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