Globally, the confirmed death toll from the virus has passed 1 million. That, too, is low. It’s low because some cases haven’t been confirmed to have been caused by the virus (though can be inferred, as above, from elevated death tolls). It’s also low because some countries (probably including Iran and China) have underreported even deaths that they’ve confirmed. But it is nonetheless a milestone and a tragic one.
The numbers should serve as a reminder of how badly the United States has fared during the pandemic.
Since the virus escaped China earlier this year, it has branched out spottily. Some countries and some regions were hard-hit. Others, even nearby ones, escaped serious negative effects. The death toll in the United States expanded quickly in the spring, largely a function of spread in the greater New York City region. At one point in May, nearly 3 in 10 global deaths had occurred in the United States. Over time, that figure settled just over 20 percent.
The percentage of deaths that have occurred in the United States has declined slowly because the country keeps adding hundreds of deaths a day. Over the past seven days, an American has died of the coronavirus just under two minutes, on average.
The toll in the United States has been uniquely bad. Two out of every 50 people on the planet are American, but 10 out of every 50 deaths have occurred here. What’s more, two-thirds of states have made up a higher percentage of the global death toll than they do the global population.
President Trump and his administration have often pointed to other metrics as preferred measures for evaluating the toll that the virus has taken. They shy away from the comparison above, for example, for obvious reasons.
But on other metrics, the picture is not much better. As a function of population, the death toll in the United States has been exceeded by only 10 countries, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. On the country’s worst day, in late April, 68 out of every 10 million Americans were dying of the virus. That peak was higher than all but 20 other countries.
Then there’s the fatality rate, which the administration repeatedly hyped during the period this summer when cases were surging but deaths were still flat. (That is, in the period before the second surge on the chart showing the seven-day average, above.) Comparing the number of confirmed deaths each day to the number of new cases two weeks prior — roughly measuring, in other words, the number of those cases that result in deaths two weeks later — about two percent of cases are now proving fatal in the United States. That’s higher than the rate was at the end of August and currently puts the United States roughly in the middle of the 100 hardest-hit countries.
If we add individual states to the mix, the global comparison again becomes worse. New York and New Jersey have seen more deaths relative to their populations than any individual countries — a somewhat unfair comparison, given that those countries will also have had hotspots, but an instructive comparison nonetheless. New York trails only the small nation of San Marino in how many deaths it saw on its deadliest day. As for fatality rates, Arizona is currently seeing more deaths as a function of its new cases two weeks ago than all but 13 countries.
There is lots of blame to go around, as the administration will also certainly point out, given the opportunity. A lack of leadership at the national level, slow implementation of distancing and recommendations at lower levels of government and a failure by many Americans to take precautionary steps to slow the virus’s spread. All of this has contributed to the United States being among the countries hardest hit by the virus.
The administration will also point out that the number of people dying from the virus at this point is down substantially from earlier this year, a function of broader knowledge about the virus and an increase of cases among younger Americans. But, again, more than 700 people are still dying each day.