I am a numbers guy. I like to understand issues by analyzing cold facts. The Covid-19 crisis is no different. Unfortunately, during any emergency most people are looking to make a buck. Either by offering hyped up news to bring eyeballs to the news media or hawkers trying to sell masks or dubious remedies for the disease. Politicos? Politicians are always looking for the edge. Lost in the numbers of cases and deaths are the analytical facts.
Screaming headlines of over 20,00 cases of Coronavirus sells newspapers. But what do the numbers mean in relation to the country’s population? Does one reported death in the Bahamas mean that the Bahamas isn’t facing serious cases of the pandemic? How are the Caribbean or Central American nations faring with the crisis? Is México dealing with the crisis effectively?
These are questions that cannot be answered with screaming headlines of 5,138 dead in America and another 37 in México.
To truly understand what the numbers mean we must compare them apples to apples.
The best way to do that is to take the reported numbers and compare them based on the percentages of the population of each country.
I selected the three North American countries to compare. They are Canada, the United States and México. (yes, México is in North America, not Central America!) But I also wanted to compare a select group of Caribbean countries. I selected the Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica. These countries are important to Americans and some have close tourism ties. I also wanted to see how Central America is handling the crisis as well. Many Central Americans live in the U.S. and some are embroiled in the so-called border crisis. I selected Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
Because many readers are Catholic, I added the Vatican to the mix. The results surprised me.
Before I get to the results I want to explain where I got the numbers I am working with and explain to you the fallacy in my analysis.
To do my comparison analysis I chose to use the numbers published by European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). The ECDC was established in 2005 by the EU. They publish daily statistical analysis on COVID-19 for every country. Another source that I considered was the World Health Organization (WHO) but their data is time consuming to analyze. The ECDC offers its daily data in an easy to parse into a database datasheet that I was able to ingest into my database and generate relevant numbers in about 15 minutes.
What made me finally decide on using data from the ECDC is that my model could be easily updated each day if I chose to do so without having to reprogram my model.
Unfortunately, there is a caveat that I must acknowledge.
Everyone, including the news media and government officials must rely on the fact that the reported instances of Coronavirus cases are voluntary by each country and subject to methodologies that they choose to use. More importantly, “reported cases” does not indicate the actual number of cases. It just means that the individual was diagnosed officially by the government.
It is clear that many more are infected by the disease but have not been officially tested and diagnosed. Some officials may choose not to formally diagnose everyone as COVID-19 infected. Likewise, for the reported deaths, it is possible that some deaths are not reported as linked to the Coronavirus.
Are countries hiding actual cases and deaths? There is no way to prove this one way or the other.
However, these are the best numbers we have to work with.
The United States has reported 5,138 deaths due to the pandemic as of yesterday morning’s ECDC data. The US has reported 216,721 cases of the infection. Canada, for the same period, has reported 109 deaths and 9,595 cases. México reported 37 deaths and 1,378 cases for the same period.
Clearly there is a significant difference in numbers. So how do they compare?
Taking the 2018 reported population for each country we find that the United States has 0.0662% of its population infected with the virus. Canada’s infected population is 0.0259%. And Mexico’s infected population is 0.0011% of its population.
Mexico’s infected population is much lower per capita than Canada’s and the US.
But when we look at reported deaths caused by the virus in terms of reported cases, we find that Mexico’s mortality rate is 2.69% of its reported cases. The United States is second at 2.37% of its reported infected population. Canada is reporting a mortality rate of 1.14% of those it identifies as infected.
When we analyze the reported deaths as a percentage of the population for each country, we find that the United States has the highest mortality rate at 0.0016%. Canada follows at 0.003%. The mortality rate for México is lower at 0.00003%.
What makes things even more interesting are the results for the Caribbean and Central America.
I averaged the Caribbean and Central American countries I identified above and found that the number of reported cases in Central America are lower than those reported by Canada, the US and México. But the reported deaths for Central America is 5.75% of the cases it has reported. The Caribbean is next at 3.41% and that is followed by the North American countries at 2.32% of reported cases.
As you can see from the analysis, Nicaragua reported a 25% mortality rate. Does this mean that Nicaragua isn’t adequately identifying virus infections until the patient is clearly in distress? Most likely that is the case.
Readers may notice that I have included the Vatican, for the reasons I outlined above, as well as Brazil. I wanted to see how Brazil compares to México. Brazil is the second largest economy in the Americas, after the United States. Canada is the third and México rounds out the top four economies in the Americas. As the reader can observe, Brazil at 3.53% has the highest mortality rate of the four largest economies in the Americas.
It is important to point out that my analysis is incomplete and that the results will change over time as the pandemic runs its course. There are too many variables, like infection curbs that start at different times, that make it too soon to fully understand the epidemic. Depending on changing circumstances I may decide to update my model as more information becomes available.
Are certain countries not fully reporting cases? Maybe. Is it because of the lack of testing equipment or medical care? It is impossible to know. Will we ever know the full extent and the failures of each country’s medical failures? Not likely.
But we can glean a better understanding by looking at data that can be compared based on information.
Likely the most important detail that all readers should understand is that, although any death is horrific, the deaths per population remains significantly lower than one percent of the population for all the countries. I hope that the number diminishes soon and that the one percent is never reached.