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The Most Important Number of 2020

Written by Sinclair Noe   
Tuesday, 29 September 2020 03:19

The Most Important Number of 2020

By Sinclair Noe

Originally published at


Another week, another milestone. The global death toll topped 1 million today. There are 33.1 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 globally.

The population of the United States is 331 million, which works out to 4.25% of the global population.

You might reasonably expect the number of Covid-19 cases in the US to be 4.25% of the global cases (33,100,00), or 1,407,000 cases.

You might reasonably expect the number of Covid-19 deaths in the US to be 4.25% of the global deaths (1,000,000), or 42,500 deaths.

Sorry, the United States has 7.3 million confirmed cases of Covid-19, not 1,407,00 – that means the US has 22% of the confirmed global Covid-19 cases.

The United States has 209,000 confirmed Covid-19 deaths, not 42,500 – that means the US has 20.9% of the  confirmed global Covid-19 deaths.

We have 5,800,000 more cases of Covid-19 than our population would indicate.

We have 166,500 more deaths from Covid-19 than our population would indicate.

This is just basic math.

Covid-19 is a global pandemic; sickness and death has hit every corner of the world. Even if the US had been super-vigilant, many people would have contracted the disease and many people would have died. If the United States had only responded to the pandemic with the same efficiency as the rest of the world, just an average response, we could have saved 166,500 lives and 5.8 million infections. Actually, we may have been able to save more lives – the sub-standard results from the US skew the global averages higher.

India, with a population of approximately 1,353,000,000 – more than a billion more people than the US. India has reported just over 6 million cases and 95,500 Covid-19 deaths.

Germany has a population of 83 million, about one-quarter of the US population, or 1.07% of the global population. Germany has reported almost 9,500 Covid-19 deaths, or just about 0.95% of the global deaths.

The US was considered a global leader in science and medical research. We should have been the global leader in the War on Covid-19. Instead, we are the global failure; we lead the world in the number of cases and deaths. Again, this is basic math. You can try to find some metric that looks slightly less horrific, but the numbers do not lie. The US has failed – epic, historical, massive failure.

Many of the people confirmed as infected were asymptomatic; others suffered only minor symptoms; others suffered greatly, describing the disease as the scariest thing they have ever dealt with; still others will have long term problems from their infections.

If you have lost a loved one, it might seem impossible to measure your grief but that is what economist do, and that is one reason economics is considered the dismal science. In truth, we all place a value on human life almost every day. For example, we know there are nearly 40,000 traffic fatalities in the US each year, yet we still drive. Some people work in dangerous jobs and some receive extra pay to compensate for the additional risk. Insurance companies assign specific dollar amounts for the loss of life. Attorneys battle over payments for pain and suffering or other conditions that affect quality of life. How much would you pay to save one human life?  Twenty dollars, $100-thousand, $1 trillion?  We like to think human life is priceless, but computer says …, no. More specifically, economists working for the military decades ago, used computers which said …, no.

There are many variations but some of the big considerations to putting a price on your head include: your age, risk factors, current health, occupation, lifestyle, earnings, and earning potential, plus many more variables. Is a 20-something’s life considered more valuable than a 60-something’s life? Sorry, Boomer. Also, consider the value of being completely healthy compared to being hospitalized with a painful disease for the next year. Then factor in the cost of treatment. Is it cost effective to treat you?

The generally accepted numbers for a life = $10 million (some estimates go down to $5 million and it depends on current age, health, etc.)

The generally accepted numbers for treating a Covid-19 patient = $320,000.

The generally accepted compensation for a year of being really sick = $100,000.

These are just generalized numbers. No doctor will pull the plug when your hospital bill hits $321,000 (although an insurance executive might). Individuals’ numbers would certainly vary. You can do some quick math here and calculate that the current death toll in the US of 209,000 carries a price tag of just over $2 trillion, but that’s just the ante – add in hospital costs, the expenses related to all those folks infected but still alive, lost productivity, the drop in business activity, the drop in GDP, and many other variables.

At some point, some dismal economist got in Trump’s ear and convinced him that this whole pandemic thing was just too expensive – and it would hurt him politically because he is the current president. The plan was to talk up an economic recovery and never admit the massively huge number of deaths and just pretend the whole thing will magically disappear. But it didn’t disappear. It is getting worse. The new estimate is that we could see the death toll climb to over 400,000 by the end of the year. A second wave will hit the economy hard. A vaccine would help but it would still take more than a year to have a truly significant impact. There is no silver bullet.

The plan (or non-plan) was based on a con. That’s Trump’s business model, so he felt no compunction to peddle the con. As a sidebar, I suspect some of Trump’s henchmen did realize the immorality of pushing this con and guilt might explain the recent breakdowns of Caputo and Parscale – but this is just a personal hunch without evidence or verification. For Trump, the choice seemed to be lives versus dollars; he chose dollars. It turned out to be a very expensive mistake.

It didn’t have to be this way. If the US government had responded with the same level of efficiency as the German government, we would be looking at about 40,000 deaths instead of 209,000. If we had been really smart, like New Zealand, we might have this whole pandemic under control. New Zealand has a population of about 4.8 million; they had 25 Covid deaths; the country is now Covid free. By comparison, the state of Louisiana has a population of 4.65 million population, and they have had 5,480 Covid deaths.

Our government could have provided economic assistance to people displaced by Covid, instead of prematurely cutting aid. We could have guaranteed food security, made certain people had a roof over their heads, backed up small businesses on Main Street instead of Wall Street. Made public schools safer and also made sure no kid was left behind due to a lack of digital access. We could have required safe working conditions for essential workers at food processing plants and for workers in the fields. We could have provided PPE for all front-line workers, instead of forcing nurses to wear garbage bags for protection.

If the government had imposed a nationwide mask mandate, and instituted ubiquitous testing, backed by contact tracing – the same stuff as many other countries, the same stuff we’ve been hearing about since February – we might have already seen the curve fall and flatten. None of this is revolutionary, nor is it beyond the ability of the government. It would be too much to imagine the whole country might be Covid free. We would still need to be vigilant, but we could have been so much better.

Today’s Covid 19 death toll stands at 209,000. This is the most important number in America today. This number represents 209,000 individuals – real people. Fathers, mothers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, neighbors, strangers, nurses, plumbers, bus drivers, doctors, lawyers, soldiers, priests, farmers, clerks, sales people, scientists, artists, slackers, teachers, students – it is just a huge slice of all of us, torn from the body; all that knowledge, all those experiences, all that potential, all that humanity, all that love - lost too soon.

Tomorrow the number will be higher. You should check the number every morning when you wake up. Even if it makes you feel sick or sad or depressed – you should check the number and be eternally grateful that you are still alive. That will be the most important number of the day. Act accordingly. On the day you vote - whether November 3rd or sooner - on that day, wake up and check the death toll. That will be the most important number of the day. Vote accordingly. your social media marketing partner
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