CV 19 Second Wave - More Cases, Fewer Deaths

It may be debatable when the first and second waves of CV 19 cases and deaths began, but since this second wave is of present concern I quite arbitrarily chose as the starting point Aug. 31 when 1,008 new cases were reported. Including Aug 31st there have been 53 days to the latest report on Oct 23. My intention was to compare that period with an equal number of days from the start of the first wave. I chose March 23 as the obvious first day of the first wave because the case number had jumped from 142 on March 22 to 621 on the 23rd. Including that date, I counted forward the same 53 days to May 14 where case numbers had increased to 71,310 and deaths had increased to 5,448. Ominous!

The relevant data is set out in the table below. What does it tell us?

Case numbers in the first 53 days of Wave 1 increased by 71,310 while case numbers in Wave 2 increased even more, by 82,784. This led to reports that Wave 2 was going to be worse than Wave 1, a reasonable worry for one aware of this data.

But let’s now consider the number of deaths in the same 53-day period. In Wave 1 deaths increased by 5,488 deaths while in Wave 2 the increased deaths were 736.

So, what on earth is going on here? Have I misplaced a decimal counting up the Wave 2 deaths?

No, it is simpler than that. But I must first give credit where credit is overdue. A significant factor in the declining number of deaths in Wave 2 has been the steep learning curve of medical personnel. In a word, many lives were saved by the advancing expertise of doctors, nurses and care givers. How many cannot be determined but their contribution cannot be denied.

But a major factor was that old bug-a-boo about the Numerator or, “comparing apples and oranges”. The numerator in the first wave was the count, obviously, of those persons that had already contracted the virus and had shown enough symptoms to warrant testing at a time when testing was not widely available. The Numerator in Wave 2 consisted of those showing symptoms as well many (perhaps most) people who did not. As of October 23rd more than 9.4 million tests have been conducted and one source I found indicated that 2.2% of the tests were positive. A data base of 9.4 million represents roughly 25% of Canada’s population. Therefore, given such a large sample one can be reasonably extrapolate that 2.2% is the underlying rate of infection in Canada. Many, perhaps most, would have been asymptomatic or would have shown only mild symptoms. But what we know now is that while the case count in the second wave was 14% higher, the death rate was 640% lower.

So, the story we hear from media sources about the second wave being “worse” than the first is the opposite of what the data shows us. That is that the death rate in Wave 2 is only a fraction of the death rate in Wave 1. Obviously current tests are detecting a low level of infection in people who often show no visible symptoms and do not require hospitalization or other medical care. But they are counted as new cases because they tested positive. I notice as well that hospitalization numbers are no longer reported as they had been earlier. What we see instead in the official report as of Oct. 23 is that 99% of the active cases are described as “Mild” and the death rate is 1% of those infected. In the 188,000 closed cases the death rate was 5%. Who, who can dispute that the situation today is vastly better than it was several months ago?

This is good news for Canadians and bad news for reporters who continue to tell less than half the story.