Most people consider death to be permanent. That’s one reason we consider it so important when someone dies. When it comes to statistics though, a focus on death is often not the most helpful when it comes to understanding the full impact of things that lead to death.

“The Tip of the Iceberg”

Most of us who grew up with English as their first language know this phrase. It stems from the observation that only 1/10th of an iceberg floats above the water. The other 90% is below the surface, mostly hidden from view.

Focusing on the number of deaths in statistics keeps us looking at the proverbial tip of the iceberg. This is misguided, misleading, and unfortunately exceptionally common. Let’s consider some statistics that have been around for a while: deaths from motor vehicle accidents.

1743 Total Deaths in 2018

In 2018, 1743 human beings died in motor vehicle accidents in Canada. I think it’s safe to assume most of those people hadn’t planned to die in a vehicular collision, so those were all people who died “before their time”, so to speak. That was the year Canadians were transfixed by one crash in particular that killed sixteen members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team in Saskatchewan. Thirteen others members of the team and staff were injured in the crash. In this horrific crash the dead outnumbered the injured. When you look at the nationwide death and injury statistics, the picture is quite different.

152,847 Total Injuries Nationwide

You have to multiply the number of deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents by 87.69 to reach the number of people who were injured in those collisions that year. These statistics  (available here) count all forms of injury, from mild to catastrophic. Focusing exclusively on the number of deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents completely overlooks the enormous cost to society these injuries represent. Consider the resources required to manage all these injuries and the toll it takes one everyone. Victims, their families and friends, first responders, nurses, doctors, rehabilitation staff, and so many more people are involved and affected by these events. An emphasis on death rates alone doesn’t consider the overall significance and effect motor vehicle accidents have in Canadian life.

The Covid-19 Parallel

Statistics for the Covid-19 pandemic have largely focused on the death rate. As we’ve seen above, having the death rate as the primary statistic we pay attention to means we are only looking at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to considering the societal effect of large-scale, society-wide events that cause deaths. There’s an interesting piece of writing circulating on social media that attempts to answer the question of how a disease with a 1% mortality rate is capable of shutting down a country’s economy.

Here’s the original thread on Quora. Look for the response from Franklin Veaux. That’s the writing making the rounds right now.

There are a lot of things we think we know about the Covid-19 virus but I’m pretty sure there are a lot of things we don’t know. As 19th-century American humorist Josh Billings said, “I honestly beleave it iz better tew know nothing than two know what ain’t so.” Scientists are still learning how this disease works and our public health measures to combat it are based on the ever-changing understanding of the virus. We need to rely on basic infection prevention measures like avoiding crowds, maintaining physical distancing, hand washing, sanitization, and mask wearing to help minimize potential transmission rates.

This Ain’t Over

As of July 15 there have been 8810 deaths attributed to Covid-19 in Canada from approximately 108,820 confirmed infections. (Statistics Here) Based on what’s been reported, many of the people who survived required medical intervention and many have been left with lasting health effects ranging from mild to severe. It’s not like people either died or recovered completely. Covid-19 scarred many of the survivors for life. Yes, shutting down the economy was bad. It’s been costly and devastating and all manner of bad things. Not taking steps to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and letting it run rampant would have also been costly and devastating, just in a different way.

When considering the impact of Covid-19 and how you respond to it, I think it’s helpful to look at the big picture. It’s been a pretty nasty disease that’s impacted a lot of people. A focus on the number of deaths is really only considering the tip of the iceberg.

Here’s hoping you’ve found this article informative and enjoyable. If you did, please share 🙂 Thanks for reading!