Numbers and Context

Sorry about the length of this post. It’s just something I have been thinking about this for a while.

The curve is finally starting to flatten, or at least deviate from exponential growth. We can see the light of the end of the tunnel. I am sure that until we see a vaccine, there will be outbreaks and local shutdowns. We may be exiting the tunnel, but this isn’t over yet.

I have spent the last month pouring over the numbers. I have also spent the last month thinking about the arguments people have put forth. I know you have heard it, “X kills more people than COVID-19”. This isn’t the point you think you’re making. Context matters.

Let’s start at the beginning, with the first comparison people made or make. The flu kills more people than COVID-19. Yes, seasonal flu kills tens of thousands of Americans every year. 

Through mid March this flu season has had between 29,000 and 59,000 deaths. Jay, you say, that proves my point that this overblown. 

Leaving aside the fact we have a vaccine that helps protect us from the standard flu, I am sure if scientists could cure the flu, they would. If we take the high number of deaths, since the start of the flu season in October, 316 people a day died.

The first case of community spread COVID-19 in the US was reported on January 19, 2020. The first death from COVID-19 in the US was reported on February 29, 2020. As of this writing, there are more than 550,000 cases confirmed and 22,000 deaths. That is 260 deaths a day (I could write a whole post on whether that number is higher. Look up H1N1 and ILI – Influenza Like Illness). The regular old flu does kill more people every day. Again, not the point you think it is. Context matters.

Right now, today more people died from CV-19 than the flu. Right now, 1471 people died from COVID-19 in the last twenty four hours. Right now, all we have is numbers, lots of numbers. Right now, context matters.

You have about 0.1% chance of dying from the flu. If you get Coronavirus, you have about a 2.0% chance of dying. Higher if you have underlying health conditions. The rate at which Coronavirus is spread is much higher than the flu, too.

What’s the point? Just throwing out a number without context is the point. There is widespread flu testing. Your local clinic can test you in their office. There are many tens of millions of reported flu cases a year. Right now we have tested about .85% of the US population for COVID-19. 

The percentage positive rate is running right around 17% (I suspect that number will go down when we get more widespread testing). We have gone from 0 to half a million in 81 days and have only tested 2,821,149 of our citizens. Context matters. 

There are so many variables we won’t know for sure until we can get COVID-19 under control. My numbers are based on current surveillance by the CDC, WHO and other organizations (links to sources at the bottom). I realize we won’t know the full extent of this pandemic until a post mortem can be done. 

When you are in a pandemic, where data is constantly updated and changing, those numbers are only as timely as the reports. Many people are dying in a small period of time, in small geographic areas. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Entering data into a database is not high on their list right now. 

If one person dies in the ER, I am sure there is enough paperwork. What happens when ten die? Twenty die? Two-hundred? Could your local hospital handle twenty cases of people in severe respiratory distress? 

The data will change over time and we will know the true extent of the virus. This also points out how little we know about COVID-19 and even how to treat it. We have no vaccine and we are not even sure how infectious it is. We should be cautious. Especially those with underlying medical conditions.

That’s why we are doing all of this. If not for yourself, then for others, those that need to be protected. We don’t know a lot, but we know that a lot of people are getting sick and dying. We know how to slow it. So we stay inside and wait for more answers.

I fear some of you are thinking, “yes, but, it’s not going to kill me.” I concede, statistically, it probably won’t kill you. The flu probably won’t kill you, either. One, we know how to treat. The other, we don’t. Context matters.

About the data:

I know, some of you are still naysayers, thinking, “You can make numbers say anything.” Fair criticism can be left below, but I am using data from primary sources.

Here are the links to my data sources:

The COVID Tracking Project
Github data source link –

Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Dashboard
Github data source link –

Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report

Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISRS)

Here are some articles I referenced: (secondary sources)

Health – This Is How Many People Die From the Flu Each Year, According to the CDC

New York Times – How Does the Coronavirus Compare With the Flu?

Published by Just j

Author, photographer, music nerd and just this guy, you know.

One thought on “Numbers and Context

  1. If you don’t screw with the sampling then the results will give you a good picture of the population your sample represents.

    ohhh, that’s more about context isn’t it?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: