COVID19 update, July 15, 2020: some observations on per-capita mortality ranking of OECD countries

Just how badly are the USA and Israel really doing, when adjusted for population?
From the news media in both countries, you’d say “terribly”. But mortality figures per capita tell a rather different story.
First, I went to worldometers and extracted a table of mortalities per million inhabitants. Then I whittled the list down to the 37 OECD member states. The resulting table is given below as an image. [The “ranking” refers to the original sorted list]

A few remarks are in order.

  • the #1 and #3 fatality rates worldwide are actually for the microstates of San Marino and Andorra, respectively. Beware statistics of small numbers though.
  • As I’ve commented before, Belgium’s chart-topping fatality rate almost certainly includes lots of people who died of causes other than COVID19, but either tested positive for COVID19 or were suspected to have been exposed.
  • Even the unadjusted US figure is still only about half the Belgian one, and places the country #7 in the OECD and #9 worldwide.
  • However, these numbers are badly skewed by the appalling mortality rate in greater New York City. If we drill down to US states and take NY and NJ out of the equation, mortality drops to 300 per million — which would make the US #16 worldwide behind the Dutch Antilles island of St. Maarten, and ahead of Ecuador. In the OECD it would be above Mexico.
  • Germany, which is regarded as a “gold standard” in Europe for its (objective speaking) highly competent handling of the COVID crisis, still has a mortality above the world average.
  • Israel, despite the hue and cry about the public health authorities and the government being rudderless now (and this is not without grounds!) still only comes at 27th place out of 37 in the OECD, and still has 2.5x lower per capita mortality than Germany! (Not to mention 1/10th of the USA and 1/20th of Belgium.) [EDIT: only four US states have lower per-capita mortality rates than Israel: sun-drenched, outdoorsy Hawaii and the thinly populated trio of Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska.]

When news media take numbers out of context, it is good to go to the source figures for some perspective.

4 thoughts on “COVID19 update, July 15, 2020: some observations on per-capita mortality ranking of OECD countries

  1. Nitay, this may be a bridge to far with the effort required or finding the data, but even mortality per country is not ‘apples with apples’. We know this disease has a distinct age profile as well as underlying co-morbidity. Countries with older populations – especially if the age attained is great, are, no matter what, going to have more mortality per infection among those elderly. Countries -as you have said yourself – that have large numbers of young people and a health system merely as good as the countries with older population are always have better outcomes. Israel I believe has a fairly large proportion young population.

    So comparing apples with apples requires breaking the figures into mortality per age cohort. At the moment the figures end up making countries where people do live to ripe old age (a positive, surely) as worse.

    Other factors – ingrained social behavior (some societies are social distancing without any enforcement) and population density all must also have an effect.

    • Yes, there is a definite link with the population pyramid. I don’t have that level of granularity available for mortality in OECD countries, just for a few (Germany and South Korea). If you apply Israel’s younger population pyramid to the South Korean case fatality rates per age bracket, you get something about halfway between the Israeli and South Korean overall case fatality rates. This suggests other factors are at play as well, but yes,
      The BCG study that appeared in PNAS also found a clear positive correlation between country Human Development Index and mortality. WTH, you say? But of course, the higher the HDI, the more people surviving into old age you have…

  2. Interesting report on child care for front line responders. Starting in the early days when little was known.
    Before reading: what would you expect? Tens of thousands of kids … many are young … can’t be trusted to distance themselves or wear masks correctly/consistently … poopy diapers. And then, after daycare, go home with parents exposed more than average to infection.

    Would you guess some flareups? Some hotspots?
    Then … you would guess wrong.

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