COVID-19 Outpacing Other Leading Causes Of Death

As of April 22nd, COVID-19 is the cause of more deaths in Canada than what would be expected from homicide, automobile accidents, liver disease, or suicide. In the United States, COVID-19 deaths have also overtaken the expected number of deaths due to influenza & pneumonia, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cerebrovascular disease (such as stroke, aneurysms, etc.), and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

Approximately a week ago, I presented several animations to illustrate how the total number of deaths due to COVID-19 had overtaken some of the typical leading causes of death in both Canada and the United States. To do so, I gathered mortality statistics from a variety of sources, calculated the average number of deaths per day (total dead by a given cause/365 days), and then used this to determine the number of dead that could be expected on any given day of the year for each of the diseases (total dead by a given cause/365 days times number of days that have passed). These expected values were then compared to the observed COVID-19 data from each country by day.

A lot can happen in a week, however, so I thought it made sense to provide an update. Before that, it’s important to identify a few caveats:

  • First, the data I am using come from John Hopkins University. However, I noticed today that their cumulative death count for Canada is greater (by 103 deaths) than what is reported by Canada.ca. For some reason, it seems that they are reporting more deaths in Ontario than we are, but I have no idea why.
  • Second, according to studies that I’m seeing, many of the people who died as a result of COVID-19 had co-morbidities such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, etc. Research suggests that those with underlying conditions are at higher risk to death. As such, the numbers I present below do not tell a complete story about COVID-19.

Regardless, the raw data suggest how serious COVID-19 is. Below I outline the status of COVID-19 in relation to other leading causes of death in Canada (Table 1), and the United States (Table 2). I’ve also included Figure 1 and Figure 2; each illustrate the observed COVID-19 deaths against the expected values from other diseases since February 29th, and the predicted number of COVID-19 deaths a few days into the future to give a sense of when it might overtake other causes of death in each country. Finally, I’ve updated the animations and have included those below as well.

Referring to Table 1, we can see that as of April 22, COVID-19 was just about to overtake Diabetes Mellitus (if we use the numbers from Canada.ca), or has already overtaken it (if we use the numbers from John Hopkins) as a leading cause of death. Whatever the case, I expect today that COVID-19 deaths will exceed the expected number of deaths by homicide, automobile accidents, liver disease, suicide, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes regardless of the data source. That is, it already has or is about to move up one more notch in the list of leading causes of death in Canada. This is significant since the first documented death due to COVID-19 in Canada occurred in early March.

Cause of DeathCanadian DeathsExpected Daily DeathsExpected Deaths By April 22
Malignant Neoplasms795361217.9124624
Heart Disease531341145.5716450
Cerebrovascular Disease13480136.934174
Accidents13290136.414115
Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease12998135.614025
Influenza & Pneumonia8511123.322635
Diabetes Mellitus6794118.612104
COVID-19119.29320774
19745
Alzheimer’s6429117.611991
Suicide3811110.441180
Liver Disease351419.631088
Automobile Accidents185625.08575
Homicide37311.02116
Table 1: Total number of Canadian deaths (2018), expected daily death counts, and expected number of deaths by April 22nd due to different causes (Sources: 1Statistics Canada, 2Government of Canada). Note: 3COVID-19 expected daily death count is determined using a 14-day average (using the 14 days up to and including the observed daily death count on April 22nd) using 4 observed data from John Hopkins (which differs from the official count posted at 5Canada.ca).
Figure 1: Daily observed (solid green line) and predicted (dashed black line) COVID-19 deaths in Canada, compared to expected number of deaths due to other leading causes (dashed coloured lines). Labels indicate the date that COVID-19 outpaced a particular cause of death. For example, COVID-19 deaths exceeded the expected number of deaths due to automobile accidents on April 10th.

In the United States, things appear to be worse. Yesterday, COVID-19 overtook the expected number of deaths due to cerebrovascular disease (such as strokes and aneurysms). If the average number of deaths due to COVID-19 doesn’t vary significantly from its current 2278 deaths per day, it should overtake chronic lower respiratory disease on April 24th, and accidents on April 25th (see where the black dashed line intersects with the top two coloured dashed lines in Figure 2). That is, it will become the third leading cause of death in the United States!

Cause of DeathAmerican DeathsExpected Daily DeathsExpected Deaths By April 22
Heart Disease65505361794.67202798
Malignant Neoplasms59921461641.68185511
Accidents1659396454.6351373
Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease1594666436.8949369
COVID-192278.008465839
Cerebrovascular Disease1477116404.6945730
Alzheimer’s1220186334.3037776
Diabetes Mellitus849386232.7126296
Influenza & Pneumonia589426161.4918248
Liver Disease513056140.5615884
Suicide483446132.4514967
Automobile Accidents394047107.9612200
Homicide16967646.485253
Table 2: Total number of American deaths (2018), expected daily death counts, and expected number of deaths by April 22nd due to different causes (Sources: 6Center For Disease Control and Prevention, 7Various Sources. Note: 8COVID-19 expected daily death count is determined using a 14-day rolling average (14 days up to and including observed daily death counts on April 22nd) using 9observed data from John Hopkins.
Figure 2: Daily observed (solid green line) and predicted (dashed black line) COVID-19 deaths in the USA, compared to expected number of deaths due to other leading causes (dashed coloured lines). Labels indicate the date that COVID-19 outpaced a particular cause of death.

While the data in Canada and the USA suggest different stories, the reality is that COVID-19 is a very serious public health issue in both countries. Please listen to the advice from our local health experts; if you aren’t essential, stay home, and stay safe.

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