Raw numbers don’t tell the whole story. A new study looks at ‘excess deaths.’
How deadly is Covid-19? It’s difficult to say with certainty, because there’s so much we don’t know. We don’t know how many people had the virus or have it now, how many people had mild symptoms or none at all, how many people got sick but didn’t show up at hospitals.
Death certificates tell us with certainty that someone has died, but they often don’t provide certainty about the cause of death. It is extremely rare for people who are otherwise healthy to die of Covid-19. Most of the people who die with Covid-19—98% in one study—have at least two other major life-threatening conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. Surprisingly little data has been collected to sort out these multiple causes.
As an insurance executive and a professional consumer of statistics, I focus on excess deaths—the number of deaths in a given period above those in a typical year. Data about deaths is reliable; Covid-19 data isn’t. In addition, many die during an epidemic because other conditions like heart problems, strokes and severe depression go untreated. Those deaths don’t show up in Covid-19 statistics at all.
Robert Rosenkranz is chairman of Delphi Capital Management and founder of the Intelligence Squared U.S. Debate Series.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images