Visualising COVID-19 risk

A friend suggested this to me as a way of visualising COVID-19 risk for the United States. The red bars in the chart above show the expected death rates for different age groups over the whole pandemic period up to August 2020 (combining the projected total deaths from IHME with the age breakdown from CDC). For comparison, the blue bars show the expected deaths from other causes over an ordinary 9-day period (using data from CDC). For every age group, the risk of dying from COVID-19 during the pandemic is less than 9 days worth of ordinary risk, because 7,700 people die in the United States on an average day (of course, the COVID-19 risk would be somewhat higher without current social distancing measures).

For children and young people aged 0–24, the risk is less than 1 day worth of ordinary risk. This is clearer if we re-plot the chart on a logarithmic scale:

Update: I have updated the charts above to match the new IHME projections dated 16 April.


4 thoughts on “Visualising COVID-19 risk

  1. Do you have a handle on the death-rate, i.e. the percentage of people infected with COVID-19 that die from it?

    Aside from flattening the curve, which is necessary to prevent further deaths in overwhelmed hospitals, if restrictions are lifted at any point before the virus is locally extinct, we can expect almost 100% of the population to be infected over time (around 6 months?), so that death-rate will apply to the population.

    That is likely to be a much bigger number than the number of deaths that would have occurred if the lockdown was extended for the same period (during the lockdown any reasonable Government would provide social security and relevant waivers to ensure nobody starves or goes bankrupt, and extra support would be made available to ensure that people don’t suffer from domestic violence or mental illness leading to suicide or murder; special dispensation would be made so that essential services can still be delivered.)

    Once the virus is effectively eliminated by the restrictions (i.e. infection rates are so low that new community transmissions can be detected rapidly by thorough contact tracing and testing), then the self-isolation can be lifted, but probably some social distancing and enhanced hygiene measures would have to be in place in some areas for several months after any new cases are detected.

    Of course, if and when a vaccine or effective therapy come along, restrictions could be eased sooner. I hope Australia will have effectively eliminated the virus long before that, though (look at New Zealand!). The USA is likely to be a basket-case of yo-yoing restrictions and freedom, which will continue long after most other countries are free of the virus, wreck their economy far worse than a short, sharp lockdown, and result in many more deaths per capita than countries that acted decisively.

    • Hubei has a population of around 60 million. Given the early lack of control of the COVID-19 infection, it seems reasonable to assume that at least 10% of the population caught the disease (mostly with mild or no symptoms). That would give a case fatality rate of under 0.1%. A number of other data sources suggest a similar, or perhaps somewhat higher, rough estimate (this is a population average, of course; the whole point of this blog post is that the risk is age-related, in a similar way to other causes of death).

      We can probably expect a significant fraction of the population to be affected eventually. The only way to avoid that outcome, it seems to me, is (1) a vaccine, or (2) stronger restrictions, continued forever, or (3) local extinction combined with permanent isolation from the rest of the world (which I think is the NZ strategy). It is unfortunately difficult to recognise COVID-19 cases because (a) most people have mild or no symptoms, and (b) the ability to test people is limited.

      It may be the case that “any reasonable Government would provide social security and relevant waivers to ensure nobody starves or goes bankrupt,” but at some point the Government can no longer borrow money. At that point the ability to provide healthcare evaporates, and the total death count far exceeds what an unrestricted COVID-19 infection would have produced.

      • I agree with everything you have written, except that I’m puzzled by why the Government would need to borrow money to keep us alive.

        As a thought experiment, imagine that a new currency was created, the New Crown (it is of course a play on “novel corona”), with an initial exchange rate of 1 ANC = 1 AUD.

        The Government waives all rents and mortgage payments. Without having to pay for housing, most people will still have enough income to buy food, but for those who don’t the Government pays them weekly in ANC, in an amount calculated to enable them to buy the same amount of groceries each week as they used to.

        ANC would be cashless, and could be attached to any card – I would say Medicare cards but they don’t have an embedded chip.

        ANC has the special property that a negative interest rate applies – at the end of each week 20% of the value is lost – it simply evaporates. Never mind, you are going to be paid again that day.

        This stops people accumulating it, without (hopefully) encouraging them to binge-spent it either.

        Ultimately the producers of food will receive the ANC that the consumers have spent, and can use it to buy things like fertiliser and petrol (there’s plenty of petrol available, of course).

        If stuff needs to be bought from overseas, some ANC can be converted to AUD at the Government’s discretion: maybe the exchange rate becomes variable to act as a lever to control the amount of international trade? If we are selling enough goods overseas (for example, Australia produces 3 times as much food as we consume domestically, and there’s no reason for that to stop), 1 ANC buys more AUD to encourage people to balance the sales with purchases, and vice versa.

        As the economy restarts after we have conquered the virus the Government needs to create less and less ANC, and about 15 weeks after the last ANC payment is made there is no longer any left circulating.

        This is probably all moot anyway as I expect that a 1 or 2 month lockdown will effectively eliminate the virus (crossing fingers that the colder weather coming doesn’t make it super-transmissible with people who are asymptomatic with COVID-19 sneezing it out anyway due to a co-morbidity like the common cold). The way the USA has bungled things, they might be in for 6 months or more of pain, and these more socialist measures could be useful.

      • Andrew, I think the currency that you are describing is the Venezuelan bolívar.

        And it may still turn out that the Australian lockdown has simply delayed the inevitable. We will see.

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