The Numbers


I’ve spent my life teaching young people about numbers. I enjoy demystifying mathematical processes and watching my students grow in confidence when faced with numerical challenges. I don’t believe that there are really individuals who are bad at math. I think instead that some folks just never encountered the right person to help them find an understanding of the logic and processes of math that underpin the workings of nature and the modern world.

Of late we’ve been bombarded with charts and graphs and statistical data of all sorts regarding Covid-19. We hear discussions regarding death rates of the virus and comparisons of this disease with others. It can become confusing and even a bit overwhelming but a few strokes on a calculator reveal some rather interesting information about the effect of the pandemic on our country.

Last week, using the latest information from the Johns Hopkins Covid-19 site along with a few references from Google I decided to do a bit of investigating of my own. I began by determining what percent of the world’s population resides in the United States. There are approximately 7,994,000,000 humans living across the globe. Of those about 382,200,000 are in the United States of America. A little bit of division showed me that our nation is home to about 5% of the people on this earth.

Next I noted that there have been 4,400,688 recorded cases of Covid-19 throughout the world. Of those 1,400,500 have been here in the USA. Another quick bit of division revealed that we have about 32% of the known cases of the virus. I was confounded by the fact that a nation with only 5% of the total population would have almost a third of the cases but I suspect that there are any number of logical explanations for that astounding number. We tend to be a rather mobile population that travels to all parts of the world and is continually on the move within our states and cities. Additionally we have a very modern medical system and in spite of its problems it is generally known for its capability to quickly and accurately diagnose disease. Nonetheless our rate of infection compared to the rest of the world is abnormally high and yet we still have people who are underplaying the effect of Covid-19 on our population.

Perhaps it is because the general story making the rounds is that this novel coronavirus is not any more deadly than the seasonal flu. With that in mind I ran the numbers and found that if I divided the number of US deaths from the virus (84,985) by the number of cases (1,400,500) I got a stunning 6% mortality rate. That is a number far larger than the under one percent figure that many claim is the average fatality rate for this virus. Furthermore the figures that I am using have been recorded in only two or three months as compared with an entire year of flu. We have now lost more citizens to Covid-19 since the beginning of 2020 than we did in all of the Vietnam War. Our percent of deaths does not fare too well when compared with the rest of the world either. In fact our figures represent 28% of all deaths from Covid-19 so far.

I find my calculations to be interesting because they appear to put a lie to a number of claims by individuals and groups who seem to think that what our country is enduring is little more than a grand hoax designed to make our president look bad in an election year. Somehow the numbers tell me that the truth of the matter is that the danger is very real and for some reason our country is not faring as well as we might hope. To believe that anybody would be capable of creating a deception so complexly horrific is incomprehensible.

The numbers regarding the destruction of our economy are just as appalling and maybe even more so, but the fact is that if we don’t very carefully consider the consequences of both dealing with the virus and keeping our country working we will surely face an even bleaker future. We indeed must be willing to talk about the facts without cover up or  recriminations The only undeniable truth in all of this is that we will have to work together, not just with each other here in this country but with our fellow humans across the globe.

Every nation is wounded and hurting. This is hardly the time to boast about our own country’s accomplishments or to isolate ourselves from the great thinking and solutions that are occurring in different corners of the globe. Our battle to save our country and our world is not a matter of who is best or first. Our leaders will have to make difficult decisions that should be based on what is right for the common good rather than what may garner votes in the coming election. All of us must be willing to sacrifice and endure privations and changes for which we are not accustomed. In the end it will not matter who was wrong or who was right in predicting the future, but what will be of paramount importance is how well and willing we are to respond to any new emergencies that arise.

People tell me that they are weary of talk of Covid-19. They want to go back to work, to shopping, to eating out, to going to church, to having parties. They want the coming school year to be business as usual and they look forward to a fall that includes football games and Halloween celebrations. They hope to soon have all of the broken pieces of our lives neatly put back together so that we can bid adieu to all of the suffering and chaos. It’s a dream that we all harbor and with God’s grace Covid-19 will leave us as mysteriously as it came into our midst. Unfortunately based on the numbers it is doubtful that things will be quite that easy.