Pandemic Analysis – How the US got behind Australia

A BBC News article from earlier this week stated that the severity (number of deaths) of COVID-19 in a country depended on two things:
(1) How quickly countries went into lockdown, i.e. mandated the “stay-at-home” rule, or “shelter-in-place” as the Californians called it.
(2) The extent of and how quickly testing for the virus was made available.
This information is in the video attached to the article (see below).

The article makes clear that countries like South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Vietnam got into testing quickly and broadly. The Vietnam story is fascinating.

They got control of the virus quickly and their deaths per million residents are way down
S Korea = 5, Australia = 4, Vietnam = 0.
In dramatic contrast, deaths in Europe and the USA are radically higher:
USA = 270, Italy = 525, UK = 508.
The above numbers came from here.

The article says the USA lost 6 weeks of testing before they caught up to S Korea, for example.
This is the “six weeks” of lost time in the USA you may have heard about in the news.
Even Dr Fauci, the quiet spoken head virus man in the USA, admitted that “we failed,” in regard to this situation

A video was embedded in the article from BBC News, but it has no source attribution. So I cannot verify the data. But I have confidence in the numbers since BBC News published the video and I have found that they strive to stick to the truth.

Why is the delay to lockdown important? Because until lockdown happens people are wandering about bumping into, pushing through, touching, kissing, coughing or sneezing on other people. And it looks like 40% of all these people have the virus and don’t have any symptoms (we say they are asymptomatic). The best way to prevent this? Quarantine. The second-best way: lockdown (stay-at-home). The third-best way: social distancing.

I have analyzed the numbers given in the video, and I came up with this graph:

Pandemic analysis

It’s a hairy-lookin’ graph but has interesting info in there. The vertical scale is number of deaths per million residents of the country or state. For example, New York has 1,400 deaths per million residents. But there are about 20 million residents so total deaths is about 1400 x 20 = 28,000.

The horizontal scale is trickier. It’s the number of days delay in starting lockdown, but measured AFTER the first death per million people. This is done to make sure all countries are on a level playing field. The results of the graph are:
(1) The countries in eastern Asia (I’ve included Australia in this group) have very low number of deaths, and they acted fast to mandate lockdown for their country (zero days after the first death/million.)
(2) Other European countries had more deaths, and more deaths if they delayed longer in mandating lockdown (e.g. Germany started lockdown in 2 days, Italy in 6 days).
(3) New York started lockdown in 4 days, and the number of deaths is off the chart, almost.
(4) California was smart and started lockdown 5 days before the first death/million people (minus 5), and they controlled their virus well (only 70 deaths per million residents).

There are other factors that determine the death rate, but clearly what was important was to start lockdown early, and the earlier the better.

As Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, said about the virus, “We hit it hard and we hit it strong.”

• The USA did not do as well as other countries in addressing the virus by (1) Early lockdowns (except that California, Illinois, and Ohio did), and (2) Expanding virus testing rapidly (such as S Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Vietnam did).
• The USA was not prepared, even though Bill Gates and many others over the past 10 years had discussed and warned and published information on how to be prepared for the next pandemic.
• The result is a significant number of lives in the USA have been lost, but sadly could have been avoided. It was even sadder because family couldn’t be with many of those that died – they died alone.

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The Gray Nomad ….. Stay careful please. Wear a mask and respect the 6 feet separation.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs.
[Book of Ephesians, chapter 4].


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3 years ago

[…] But in New York – the worst-hit state in the US – the mortality rate is close to 150 people in every 100,000, which is much worse than all the European countries in Figure 1. In a deeper dive, a previous blog suggested that perhaps 20,000 lives might have been saved if the US had acted quicker to impose virus lockdowns (can read about that HERE.) […]

4 years ago

Thanks for the analysis and data points. Certainly highlights the positive outcomes and the short comings of the United States’ response. I wish I could expect things to be different next time, but as long as we keep reelecting the same Senators and Representatives, who have overstayed their effective political life, we will reap the same harvest. Term limits and campaign finance reform are essential. “We the People” should be in charge, by electing capable prudent people, including presidents, regardless of the political party they represent. Good job Ian.

4 years ago

The New York Times published an article on 21 May — On March 15, New York City closed schools. On March 16, President Trump urged Americans to limit travel, avoid groups and stay home from school. But in cities like New York, where the virus arrived early and spread quickly, those actions were too late to avoid a calamity.

If the United States had begun imposing social-distancing measures one week earlier in March, about 36,000 fewer people across the USA would have died in the pandemic.
This is not inconsistent with the estimate of 20,000 deaths that could have been avoided in New York State, based on the graph in the blog.

You can read the NYT report here (you will have to scroll down to see the report):

Anne T.
Anne T.
4 years ago

Thank you, Ian. I find your analyses interesting and highly informative.

4 years ago

I agree with this. We can split hairs on how numbers are
calculated; but the conclusions are right.

The USA never “locked down” like other countries and all our policies were
little more than recommendations. Very little enforced, although there
were a few high profile cases. The rest of the country left to run
amok, tempered only by smarter, calmer people who actually stayed at

4 years ago

New York was plotted above at 1400 deaths/million. But could it have been only 400 deaths/million if it fell on the dashed trendline between the European countries?
The difference between the two positions is 1,000 deaths /million.
For 20 million residents of NY state, that’s 1,000 x 20 = 20,000 deaths that might not have happened.
Is it possible that if if the US administration had acted quicker, and if NY state had reacted quicker, that up to 20,000 deaths might have been avoided in New York state?

Bob Moulton
Bob Moulton
4 years ago

Hi Ian,
Observing the COVID-19 situation in USA from afar (rural South Australia) it appears to me that Donald Trump was originally in denial phase and primarily concerned with the effect that it would have on your economy. He ignored (or rubbished) any views contrary to his own, and wasted valuable time before he accepted the fact that this was a catastrophic event. His responses were puerile and lacking conviction. And even in the middle of this crisis, he was unconvincingly talking up the economy, saying that next year was going to be ‘fantastic’. He may not have blood on his hands but I sense that, behind the bluff and bluster, there is a man who is feeling seriously out of his depth.

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