That’s the average number of people who die every single day in the U.S., which BTW is  twice the number we lost in the 9/11 attacks!  (Source: 2.8m/yr divided by 365 days)

The key question nobody is asking is how much has COVID-19 changed that number?

When I analyze a business project, I start with two pieces of data:

  1. The net impact it had on the business
  2. The impact it had on the specific part of the business it was meant to impact. We call this this the categorical impact (because it measures how much impact the project had on specific categories).

It is common to find that a project had a noticeable impact on #2, but not #1.

Let me illustrate with an example.

Let’s say that a potato chip company (I’ve never worked for one) wants to know if the new variety of sea salt potato chips it introduced was a success.

The sea salt potato chip product manager is apt to focus on #2, the sales of her new sea salt chips. Those are doing great! This initiative has been a huge success! Promote me!

I’m often the spoiler of this good news and I come in and show #1, the net impact it had on the business.

About 60% of the time #1 is close to zero. In other words, for every bag of sea salt chips a customer bought, they bought one less bag of the existing varieties of chips. All of her fellow product managers say, Boo! Your new product is just stealing sales from our products.

In the COVID-19, so far, numbers reported have been focused solely on #2, the categorical impact: How many people who die who also happen to have COVID-19?

The more telling number will be how much COVID-19 has impacted #1, the total average number of deaths in the U.S. I suspect that it may be a noticeable impact for the peak time periods, but may be less so as we expand the time window to a few months.

But, as always — I COULD BE WRONG!

That will tell us to what extent COVID-19 had an incremental impact on death rate and to what extent it shifted deaths from one category (e.g. pneumonia) to another (COVID-19) and maybe shifted some deaths by a few weeks or a few months.

Unfortunately, we won’t likely know this for some time. But, it’s good to keep in mind that we should look at it.

High-level estimate

According this site, the U.S. has conducted 1.3 million COVID-19 tests (as of 4/2) and found 240 thousand positive cases of COVID-19, for a positive test rate of 18.5%.

If 18.5% represents the average rate of COVID-19 in the general population, then I would guesstimate that we should expect 1,424 deaths per day (7,700 x 18.5%) of people who test positive for COVID-19 in the U.S.  And, that’s doesn’t necessarily say COVID caused the death. It’s just that they died and happened to test positive, just like the 18.5% of the other folks that didn’t die and also tested positive.

I think 18.5% is too high for the general population, because of selection biases in who has been given the test.

If I cut that estimate in half and say 9% of the population in the U.S. currently has COVID-19, then my guesstimate changes to 693 deaths per day (7,700 x 9%) as people who test positive with COVID-19.


Simple solutions to stop the spread

I’m a sucker for simple and effective solutions.

Social distancing and hand washing are good examples.

Another solution is to over test and isolate the infected, and those they have been in contact with, as early as possible, as S. Korea did.

We missed the boat on this one. Hopefully, this will be a lesson learned for the next go around.

Because we missed that boat, we shut down large gatherings, which was the best move in the absence of other measures, but not quite as simple.

Treating with a malaria drug may prove to be another simple solution.

Another potentially effective simple solution that Arnold Kling advocates, and is part of S. Korea’s containment package, is wearing a mask or scarf to cover your nose and mouth.

Some are skeptical of the effectiveness of this solution. But, I think it’s compelling that S. Korea was able to get better results than areas that instituted shutdowns, without  shutdowns. At least that’s my understanding. Let me know if that’s wrong.

Some have pointed out that S. Korea figured these tactics out out with the SARS virus, so hopefully we’ll learn our lessons on this one so we don’t have to repeat this mess.

A commenter on Arnold’s blog suggested that locales exempt people from lockdowns if they wear mask or scarf. I think that would be a good way to get people over the cultural hump we seem to have against masks.

Finally, the other reason I like S. Korea’s efforts is that I read somewhere that they did something we have not. They prioritized solutions that were compatible with their high regard for freedom.

I have not heard our officials even acknowledge that.

My concern is that busy-bodies might see get the idea from this that it’s okay to yank our freedom whenever they feel there’s a case that they’re doing it for our own safety.