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The United States Leads The Developed World In COVID-19 Deaths. Really.

We have had a bit of a debate in this country whether or not we had an effective response to the corona virus pandemic.

Now new data shows that not only have we done a poor job of controlling COVID-19 infections and deaths but our outcomes have been among the worst in the developed world. That’s hard to believe, but it is true. At least that’s what the data shows.

The research report published yesterday in JAMA starts with the comment that “The US has experienced more deaths from coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) than any other country and has one of the highest cumulative per capita death rates.” And it goes downhill from there.

One of the questions the researchers answered is whether the rate of death in this country was due to early events, when no one really knew much about the virus, or did our poor response linger throughout the cycles of disease we have experienced since February and March when compared to the experience of other countries. 

What the researchers found, when comparing countries with low and moderate rates of death from COVID-19 to countries with high death rates was that the United States landed squarely in the high death rate category. And that meant when compared to other countries, many more people died in the United States than was the case elsewhere among some other developed countries who tackled the pandemic more effectively than we did. 

In short, if our death rates from COVID-19 were comparable to Australia through September 19, we would have 187,661 fewer deaths—a reduction of 94%.

Let’s reread that last statement: If we had done what Australia did, we would have saved 187,661 of the souls lost out of 198,589 who died from COVID-19 from the beginning of the pandemic to September 19 in the United States. Another example is if we had the same death rates as Canada, we would have had 117,622 fewer deaths, a 59% reduction.

When looking at the actual rates of deaths per 100,000 people in a given country since the start of the pandemic—which is more accurate than the more traditional numbers of total deaths that get bandied about—the US rate was 60.3/100,000 while Australia—a “low rate” country—was 3.3/100,000 and Canada—a “moderate” mortality country—was 24.6/100,000. Those are huge differences, with very human meaning and impact. 

There were other countries that fit into the “high mortality” group along with the United States. We know the examples because we saw them nightly when we were fixed to our television screens during newscasts which showed daily images of carnage in countries such as Italy and Spain. 

Since the start of the pandemic through September 19, 2020, the United States death rate from COVID-19 was 60.3/100,000. There were countries where the rate was slightly higher: United Kingdom at 62.6/100,000 and Spain at 65/100,000 for example, with Belgium the highest at 86.8/100,000. So when looking at the entire experience with the pandemic, we don’t look worse than some other countries—but these are the “high mortality” countries. Those who approached the virus more vigorously had much lower rates: 0..7-3.3/100,000 in the low mortality countries and 5.0-24.6/100,000 in the moderate mortality countries. 

However, take no comfort in the fact that other countries have been in the same situation we have, because what has happened more recently tells a much different story: Since June 7 through September 19, the death rate in the US is 27.2/100,000 compared to Spain with a very low 1.8/100,000 and the United Kingdom with 5/100,000.  

Translated: Since June 7, the United Sates is now leading the developed world with COVID-19 deaths, when everyone else has figured out what to do much better than we have.  No one else is even close to our numbers. In fact, the closest is Israel at 10.6/100,000 and Sweden at 10.3. Everyone else is way, way lower. Our death rates are more than double the closest countries, and more than 20 times greater for many others.

So when you hear all of those claims about how well we are doing when it comes to handling the pandemic, and as we watch the third leg of the pandemic take our cases and deaths higher and higher, just think about what the numbers have shown about our efforts to date. You know: the facts, the science, the evidence. 

It isn’t pretty and it isn’t something we should be bragging about.

And let’s never, ever forget: those lost were mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends. Some were in nursing homes, however many were not. They were functioning, loving, caring people: each one a soul to be remembered, to be cherished, to be celebrated.

And as I have said many times before as have so many others: It didn’t have to be this way. It doesn’t have to be this way. It is a false choice to say we have freedom or we have lockdown. It just isn’t so. 

Sadly, right now it looks like we may be taking ourselves down a very, very serious path that could indeed lead to more disease and more deaths, with more severe restrictions and more economic and personal pain. All for want of wearing a mask, washing our hands, distancing, avoiding crowds and showing common decency and respect for each other.

There is some hope as I write this: we may have effective vaccines and we may have effective treatments on the horizon, however what we won’t have any time soon is everyone’s commitment to understand the seriousness of this disease and how we can all work to prevent it. 

That won’t eliminate the corona virus, but it certainly could get us to a much better place. No matter the vaccines and the treatment: prevention is the best, safest, easiest and least expensive option we have today and for the foreseeable future. Treatments won’t change that, and vaccines remain a promise and not a reality, at least not today and not likely for a number of months.

So now it becomes imperative to take action. We cannot wait, as we are currently courting a major disaster. And that means we need to take pause and reflect on the fact that we can do better, and must do better. And we have to do it now.