Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day 2020

The United States is approaching 100,000 reported deaths related to Covid-19 this 2020 Memorial Day weekend.

Predictably, the usual sources were quick to politicize that sad milestone.

This is the front page from the The New York Times on Sunday. 

Democrat leaders had urged President Trump to order flags be lowered to half staff across the nation when the death toll reached 100,000 as a memorial to those who have died from Covid-19.

The President ordered the flags at half staff for the Covid-19 victims on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. However, I believe he was wise to not let the Covid-19 remembrance infringe on Memorial Day which honors those who have fought and died in service to our country.

Many on the Left want to compare Covid-19 deaths to those suffered in various wars. 

Here are the death tolls from major U.S. conflicts.

Credit: Wikipedia

Of course, these deaths have to be put into context considering the percent of the population of the United States at the time.

25,000 deaths in the American Revolutionary War appears to be very modest considering what was achieved. However, those deaths represented 1.0% of the population of the United States at the time.

By comparison, 100,000 deaths today is .03% of the population. In other words, there were 33 times more deaths in the Revolutionary War as a percentage of the population as compared to Covid-19.

Here are the deaths as a percent of population in the other major conflicts.

Credit: Wikipedia 

It is also interesting to note that there were 116,516 deaths in World War I. However, only half of that total were combat deaths (53,402). A large percentage of the remainder were due to deaths from the Spanish Flu which was notable for being atypically fatal to those aged 20–40 years.

Mortality was high in people younger than 5 years old, 20-40 years old, and 65 years and older. The high mortality in healthy people, including those in the 20-40 year age group, was a unique feature of this pandemic.

This chart shows the attack rate (left axis-red) and the mortality rate (right axis-black) of the Spanish flu in 1918/19. 

In total, 675,000 Americans succumbed to the virus which was .7% of the population at the time---that would be 23 times the numbers we have seen with Covid-19 thus far.

28% of Americans were infected by the Spanish Flu before it burned out. Interestingly, we saw a 21% infection rate on the Diamond Princess and a 22% infection rate on the U.S Navy aircraft carrier Teddy Roosevelt. This may suggest that the virus may have difficulty spreading beyond 25%-30% of the population. You may recall that previous models suggested a 70% attack rate with no social distancing. 

As more and more data comes in on Covid-19 deaths it is becoming clearer every day that the mortality risks of this virus skews very heavily to those that are older.

For example, look at this chart that was released by Colorado late last week showing deaths by age group.

Deaths per 100,000 is 3 for those under age 60. You can barely see the white sliver representing these deaths in this donut graph.

It is 377 per 100,000 for those over age 80.

Pennsylvania is now reporting more deaths for those over age 100 than in those under age 45.


My home state of Ohio updated its numbers on Friday and is now reporting that 1,247 deaths out of a total of 1,756 total deaths as of May 21, 2020 were from nursing homes. That is over 70% of all deaths in Ohio.

The median age of all deaths in Ohio is age 81.

It would be interested to see how many of these deaths were in hospice care in these nursing homes.

In the last several years the United States has seen about 2.8 million deaths per year. As you would expect, the majority of those deaths are of those over 75 years of age. 

This is the age distribution of deaths for 2017/18 which are the two most recent years for which national data is available.

As sad and sobering as the deaths involving Covid-19 are, it can be said that the mortality numbers we are seeing are following a natural order based on the data above.

The same cannot be said about deaths in wars. That is why I do not think it is appropriate when people try to compare Covid-19 fatalities to war deaths.

Deaths in wars generally tilt towards the young. The military casualties are also the fittest and healthiest that a society has.

For example, here is the age distribution of U.S. deaths in the Vietnam War.

69% of deaths were of those age 22 or under.

The same was true with the Spanish Flu. The bulk of deaths were under age 40.

A young life lost is not just a loss of life it is an unfulfilled life of potential that is also lost forever. It could truly be said that it is an incalculable loss. It also carries a high economic cost to society. Who knows what might have been produced or invented by this young talent over their lifetimes?

I have shown in the past how high that cost is in this chart by Professor Kevin Murphy of the University of Chicago that shows the value of longevity gains in the economy since 1900.

You can see the enormous loss in 1918/19 due to the Spanish Flu and World War I. Notice as well that the gains between men and women diverged in the 1940's (World War II) and the 1960-1970 period (Vietnam War).

Of course, if the New York Times really wants to get into incalculable losses it might want to report more on abortion deaths that numbered over 800,000 in the most recent reported year.

If you doubt the potential in these lives consider just a few names of those born who would probably be considered unplanned and unwanted today because of the difficult circumstances of their mothers when they became pregnant. You might recognize their names.

Steve Jobs. Oprah Winfrey. Marilyn Monroe. LeBron James. Jack Nicholson. Jesse Jackson.

We should also not forget Barack Obama whose white mother was 18 years old, unmarried and a freshman in college when she became pregnant by a black man in 1960. Ask yourself this question. Would that pregnancy continue today?

On this Memorial Day let's remember those that made the ultimate sacrifice for us.

Let us also acknowledge that all life is valuable and and should be valued.

We need to honor those who have contributed so much over their lifetimes but we also have a responsibility to see to it our society endures and prospers for generations to come.

If we don't, the sacrifices so many have made to which we pay homage today and those who have perished due to Covid-19 will be in vain.

There is a lot to consider on this Memorial Day 2020.

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