COVID-19 Compared To Leading Causes Of Death

After reading Not Like the Flu, Not Like Car Crashes, Not Like… by Ari SchulmanBrendan Fohtand Samuel Matlack from The New Atlantis, I decided I wanted to get a better sense of the size of the COVID-19 pandemic in both Canada and The United States.

To do this, I pulled annual mortality counts based on some of the leading causes of death in both countries (presented in Table 1). The data I found were specific to 2018, however, I don’t expect that the numbers would have changed significantly year over year. That is, I assumed the 2018 data would be a fair representation of the number of deaths expected this year per country and cause.

Cause of DeathCanadaUnited States
Malignant Neoplasms7953615992143
Heart Disease5313416550533
Cerebrovascular Disease1348011477113
Accidents1329011659393
Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease1299811594663
Influenza & Pneumonia85111589423
Diabetes Mellitus67941849383
Alzheimer’s642911220183
Suicide38111483443
Liver Disease35141513053
Automobile Accidents18562394044
Homicide3731169673
Table 1: Total number of deaths (2018) in Canada and the United States due to different causes. Sources: 1Statistics Canada, 2Government of Canada, 3Center For Disease Control and Prevention, 4Various Sources.

Under the assumption that there is no seasonality to these particular types of death, I divided each value by 365 to get the expected number of deaths per day per cause. For example, we would expect to see 217.91 deaths per day due to malignant neoplasm (cancer) in Canada. In other words, we’d expect to see rounded cumulative counts of deaths due to cancer in Canada of 218 on January 1, 436 on January 2, 654 on January 3, and so on. Similarly, we’d expect to see 108 automobile deaths on January 1 in the USA, 216 on January 2, and so on.

Noting that the seasonality assumption isn’t perfect (because it’s easy to imagine certain types of death – such as automobile accidents, influenza, and others – being more common during different times of the year), I created an expected cumulative death count for each of the causes by day, and merged this with the observed trajectory of deaths due to COVID-19 for both countries. The data I am using was extracted from John Hopkin’s University here. Note: the data are cumulative up to and including April 17th.

Finally, using the process I outlined in a previous post, I generated two animations – one for Canada, and one for the United States. Of course – since the first deaths due to COVID-19 weren’t recorded until February 29 in the United States, and March 9 in Canada, the first 2 months or so of the animations lack much in the way of movement. It is, however, interesting to see how things change as time passes following the dates in which the first deaths were recorded in each country.

What the plots show is how deaths due to COVID-19 compare in relation to other leading causes of death. In particular, the total number of deaths due to COVID-19 in Canada have, as of yesterday, outpaced the expected number of deaths due to homicide, automobile accidents, liver disease, and suicide.

The situation seems to be more dire in the United States, as you can see below.

As of April 16th, the total number of deaths due to COVID-19 have outpaced the number of deaths in the United States due to homicide, automobile accidents, suicide, liver disease, influenza & pneumonia, and diabetes mellitus. I expect in the day or so, it will also outpace Alzheimer’s, and cerebrovascular disease. Update: As of April 17th, the total number of deaths in the United States due to COVID-19 has outpaced the expected number of deaths due to homicides, automobile accidents, suicides, liver disease, influenza & pneumonia, diabetes mellitus, and Alzheimer’s.

As always, stay safe. And if you aren’t an essential worker, please stay home.

4 Comments

    1. Based on what I can find, the number of cases due to Lyme disease in Canada was 2025 in 2017 (https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/lyme-disease/surveillance-lyme-disease.html), and approximately 30000 in the US (https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/datasurveillance/index.html). Both of these numbers are likely underestimates. I also haven’t found death data related to Lyme as of yet – but if you have that, please let me know. It’s relatively easy to add it into the plot.

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