Cases, cases, cases! What about deaths?

It seems to me that the media is more focused on COVID-19 cases than on COVID-19 deaths. I get it. The more cases there are, the more the virus will spread. The more the virus spreads, the more deaths will ensue.

However, the number of actual cases is difficult to determine, as many with the virus are never tested. Also, there are plenty of false-positives and false-negatives.  Add to that the many who are asymptomatic. It is practically impossible to measure the true number of COVID-19 cases. But in all the discussion about cases, many miss how the true impact of this virus must be measured in deaths.

But many are confused with the number of deaths that COVD-19 has caused. In mid-July, one Axios survey revealed that 1 in 3 Americans increasingly believe that the death toll numbers are inflated (Axios-Ipsos poll: The coronavirus death toll skeptics are growing – Axios). On the other end of the spectrum, a week later, another poll revealed that some Americans believe that 9% of the US population has died from COVID-19 (see page 12 of kekstcnc_research_covid-19_opinion_tracker_wave-4.pdf).

The confusion is understandable. I have heard from some who have witnessed intense pressure put upon medical workers to identify deaths as COVID-19. It has led many to doubt the reality of the threat of COVID-19. ,

Further, when the media reports COVID-19 deaths, they often omit the fact that only 6% of the COVID-19 related deaths are recorded as COVID-19 alone. An overwhelming 94% of COVID-19 deaths come with comorbidities. In other words, for the most part, people die WITH COVID-19, rather than FROM COVID-19. This is why the sickly are at high risk. COVID-19 seems to bring on an earlier-than-expected death of those with pre-existing conditions. Please be careful, this 6% figure has been mis-understood and mis-applied. Here’s one article that seeks to explain: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/09/01/fact-check-cdcs-data-covid-19-deaths-used-misleading-claims/5681686002/

So, how deadly is COVID-19? Is the reporting accurate? Can we trust the media?

Full disclosure: I’m not a health worker. I have no expertise with COVID-19. I’m a pastor, seeking to lead a local church through these trying times. With the vastness of differing opinions on these things, I have been compelled to search for objective facts in these matters.

So, I went to the source: the Centers for Disease Control (cdc.gov).  I retrieved their data on the weekly number of all deaths since 2014 (to the present). The data can be found here: https://data.cdc.gov/NCHS/Weekly-Counts-of-Deaths-by-State-and-Select-Causes/muzy-jte6 and here: https://data.cdc.gov/NCHS/Weekly-Counts-of-Deaths-by-State-and-Select-Causes/3yf8-kanr.  When you compare the deaths of previous years to deaths this year, you can see the true effect that COVID-19 has had upon our society.

Here’s a graph I generated from the CDC’s data. I entitled it, “Deaths in America by Week.” Week 1 is the first week in January. Week 52 is the last week in December. Because of the lag in reporting deaths to the CDC, these numbers are current as of August 2020. Further, the numbers for 2019 and 2020 are identified as “provisional” by the CDC. I assume that this means the numbers may increase slightly as the CDC awaits reporting that lags for one reason or another.

The first thing that you notice in this graph is the spike in 2020.  Before addressing this spike, notice the general trend of all the years. America regularly experiences more deaths at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year. Presumably, this comes because of winter forcing us inside, where disease can spread easily. Further, note the high death rate at the end of 2017 (yellow) and at the beginning 2018 (light blue). This represents the effect of the 2017-2018 flu epidemic (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017%E2%80%932018_United_States_flu_season). 

Let’s address the 2020 spike in the above graph. America has experienced significantly more deaths in 2020 than in other years. In some ways, this must be due to COVID-19, as this is the only major difference between 2020 and other years. This shows the undeniable impact of COVID-19. During the peak (week 15, mid-April), America experienced a 50% spike in deaths over normal.  Currently, America is hovering around 20% more deaths than normal on a weekly basis.

Of significance also in the graph above is the downward trend. Deaths in America are heading down toward normal levels. I can only surmise that this is because of the measures that our society has put in place, like social distancing measures, masks and closures. Furthermore, our medical workers have figured out better ways to treat the virus. Only God knows what the graph would have looked like had no action been taken. And we will find out whether the trend continues toward normal or toward another spike as we move indoors for the winter.

Of curious interest also is how the impact has varied from state to state.  Here are a few examples (with my comments):

I live in Illinois.  We have followed roughly the same course as the United States.

For all of its early troubles, New York has practically returned to normal death rates for months.

Arizona experienced a late surge (https://www.politico.com/news/2020/07/01/arizona-coronavirus-record-pence-visit-347105).

Despite some of the earliest and most stringent regulations, California still seems to be struggling.

Montana has been unfazed.

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Now, let’s work to the core question of this article: how many people have actually died of COVID-19 in America? To help answer that question, the graph below represents the death totals above average experienced in the United States in 2020 from week 12 (late March) an onward. I picked this week, because this is where we experienced the first noticeable spike in the number of deaths. The number represents the difference between total deaths in 2020 and the average number of total deaths from 2014-2019.  Because of the lag in data collection, this takes us through week 32 (mid August).

As you can see, this number is approaching 250,000!  These are the excess deaths of people in America in 2020. By mid-August, the press was typically reporting COVID-19 numbers in the 160,000-170,000 range.  Today, this number is approaching 200,000. In other words, the press (reporting CDC numbers) has been under-reporting the true impact of COVID-19 on deaths in America. You can see this under-reporting the graph below, where I have added the CDC death totals each week where COVID-19 is listed as one of the causes (or the only cause) of death.

The reason for the discrepancy in the lines above is that CDC reports a death as COVID-19 only if the deceased tested positive for COVID-19. But if a test was never conducted, COVID-19 cannot be recorded as a cause of death. So, many who died with COVID-19, but never were tested, are not included in the CDC number. Further, I can think of several scenarios where people didn’t die with COVID-19, but did die due to the impact of COVID-19 upon them. For instance, some suicides may have been caused by the isolation that came through quarantines. The same may be true of domestic abuse cases that have escalated to death when people have been forced to live closely with others without ability to separate. Also, some deaths may have come because of surgeries or treatments or ER visits that were postponed from fear of COVID-19 and other COVID-19 related pressures. Many other scenarios could be envisioned.

Regardless of how or why a person dies, the way to measure the impact of COVID-19 is to measure the number of deaths above average. So, COVID-19 is real. And the true numbers of excess deaths in 2020 are actually larger than the CDC has reported as official “COVID-19” deaths.

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As I have showed these graphs to some of my friends, their first question has often been, “How old are those who are dying?” I found some data here to answer the question: https://data.cdc.gov/NCHS/Weekly-counts-of-deaths-by-jurisdiction-and-age-gr/y5bj-9g5w/. Here are the graphs I produced from the data:

As you can tell, the graphs are looking quite similar to the first graph in this article, only in reducing numbers, corresponding to reducing age. That’s because, in general, more people die old. And most of the deaths from COVID-19 are older people as well.

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COVID-19 has made a real effect upon our country, perhaps even more than reported. Further, I think that the protective measures we have taken have helped to reduce the spread of infection, and as a result, death. I’m thankful to God for the adaptations that medical workers have made to treat patients with COVID-19.

Yet, to put things in perspective, using the 250,000 number of deaths and using 330 million for population of the United States, only 0.08% of Americans have died due to COVID-19.  That’s 1 in 1320 people.  For comparison’s sake, the Spanish flu (H1N1) pandemic of 1918 killed a conservative estimate of 550,000 Americans, out of a population of 103 million (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2740912/). This is 0.5% of the population.  That’s 1 in 200 people. We have a long way to go to match the devastation of that pandemic.

11-12 Weeks

When I worked in an office environment, I tried to keep a few things on my desk that might remind of what’s really important in life. A side benefit was that many of these things would promote healthy discussions among my co-workers. One of the things that I used to keep was a life-sized plastic model of an 11-12 week old fetus in the womb.

At this point in the pregnancy, the baby is about two inches long. Almost all organs are formed and most are beginning to function, including the kidneys, the liver, and the pancreas. Fingers and toes have become distinct. You can count them. Hair and nails have begun to grow.

Sadly, this is the age at which many babies are aborted. We need to pray for mercy.

Behind Closed Doors

I remember some good pastoral advice that I once received from another pastor friend. He told me, “Never be surprised what happens behind closed doors.” In other words, people may put on an appearance that all is well, when in fact, all is not well. It’s only when something happens that they are exposed.

An example of this came this week with the situation with Sam Hurd, former wide receiver with the Chicago Bears. He didn’t show up for team meetings on Thursday, so the team began inquiring as to what was wrong. They found out that he had been arrested by federal officials on Wednesday evening, who say that Hurd was setting up a drug-distribution network in the Chicago area.

Everyone in the organization was caught by surprise. The general manager, Jerry Angelo, said, “We’re all very, very shocked. … When we do our homework on players, we have a very sound and tested methodology that we go about researching all players. … So I can sit here and tell you with total transparency that we did everything we know how to do in terms of our research and there was nothing that we found that would create a flag or an alert or a real concern in Sam Hurd’s case.” The coach, Lovie Smith, said, “I’m in shock over it; never saw it coming. My dealings with Sam here have all been good. He’s a guy that showed up every day ready to go to work.” Brian Urlacher, the Bear’s middle linebacker, said, “He’s a good teammate. That’s what I know of him. He comes to work every day and works hard. Outside of here, I don’t know him very well. But he comes to work every day and practices hard and plays hard. That’s all I know of him. … He’s a friendly guy. He’s always been really friendly. He says ‘hi’ in the hallway every time you walk by him. I walk by him 10 times a day in the hallway and he still says ‘hi’ every time.”  Johnny Knox, a fellow wide-receiver, said, “He had a great character. The guy was always down-to-Earth, always laughing and made jokes with us all. I was surprised just as you all are.”

Hurd had hidden his activities very well. You never know what happens behind closed doors.

The Jesus Jersey

Tim Tebow is one of the most polarizing figures in sports today. Seemingly, people either love him or hate him. He is arguably the best college football player ever. And yet, as a quarterback, he has struggled to throw the ball accurately. His ways are very unorthodox. And yet he continues to win. Only time will tell how successful his professional football career will be.

Perhaps the most polarizing aspect about Tebow is that he is an outspoken Christian, born of missionary parents. Many hate him for this and many love him for this. Some fans in Denver, wishing to show their love for him, have begun to don his #15 jersey, replacing the name “Tebow” with “Jesus.” This is a testimony to Tebow’s character. Unlike so many professing Christian athletes, he matches up his walk with his talk.

But, in their efforts to honor Tebow as their football messiah, the jerseys miss the point. Names on the back of jerseys are used to identify the one who wears the jersey. But Tim Tebow isn’t Jesus Christ. Tebow is a sinner saved by grace through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9). Tebow’s desire is to see others believe in Jesus–the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

Mormonism and the Presidency


The presidential elections are more than a year away, and yet, things are heating up with the primary elections coming soon. One of the major discussions in this year’s election cycle has to do with Mitt Romney and his Mormon beliefs.

Dr. Robert Jeffress (pastor of First Baptist Church, a southern Baptist church in Dallas, Texas) was recently interviewed regarding his comments regarding Mormonism as a cult.  I thought his perspective is a good one to share as you think about casting your votes in the upcoming primaries and presidential elections.

Dismantling the Bomb

A few days ago (October 25th, 2011), technicians in Amarillo, Texas, finished dismantling the last of America’s B53 nuclear warheads. Estimates are that the United States had more than 300 of them at one point in time. These were massive bombs, weighing close to 9,000 pounds. Each of them were 600 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. They were so large that a jet could only carry two bombs at a time. In service for more than 50 years, the United States has rendered all of them impotent.

Jesus did a similar work on the cross. Through His death, the bomb of death has been dismantled. As it is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory … through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54, 57). By raising from the dead, Jesus rendered death impotent. Praise be to God.

Helping the Helpless

A few days ago (October 23, 2011), a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck eastern Turkey. The damage was great. More than 2,000 buildings have collapsed and the death told is more than 400 people (and counting). It’s all a reminder of the fact that we live in a fallen world.

Perhaps the most heart-warming story came from Ercis, Turkey, where rescuers were able to pull a 2 week-old baby (Azra Karaduman) from the rubble of a five-story apartment building, nearly two days after the quake hit. Shortly thereafter, her mother and grandmother were also pulled from the wreckage alive. It was a great rescue.

This is a good picture of our salvation. We were completely helpless, until God stepped in and pulled us out of the rubble of sin. “While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6).

The Rise and Fall of Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods is (er, … was?) one of the greatest golf talents ever.  His meteoric rise to dominate the golf scene is historic.  I still remember watching in amazement as this 21-year-old golfer won the 1997 Masters by 12 strokes!  He looked unbeatable.  Over the years, I have very much enjoyed rooting for him to win.

Jack Nicklaus saw it coming.  In an interview with Billy Morris, on April 10, 1996, Nicklaus said, “Arnold and I both agree that you could take his Masters and my Masters and add them together, and this kid should win more than that. This kid is the most fundamentally sound golfer that I’ve ever seen at almost any age. … I don’t know whether he’s ready to win yet or not, but he will be your favorite for the next 20 years. If he isn’t, there’s something wrong.” Well, seeing the above chart, something is wrong.

For 719 weeks in a row (almost 14 years), Tiger Woods was ranked as #1, #2, or #3 in the world.  Yet, now, he has fallen out of the top 50.  It is no accident that his fall has coincided with the exposure of his sexual sin (in November 2009). He hasn’t won a tournament since.  The reason he didn’t lose his #1 ranking earlier than October 2010 is because the world rankings take into account all the golf tournaments for the past two years.  He was so dominant that without even playing very much (or very well), it took nearly a year to lose his #1 post. I’m hoping that he can regain his form and be #1 again.

Learn the lesson of Tiger’s fall.  Sin will destroy you. Don’t be deceived, “be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). Sooner or later, your sin will come to light.  When king David kept silent about his sexual sin, he said, “my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. … My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.”  After more than a year, David finally confessed his sin to the Lord and found forgiveness.  He spoke of the blessing that  “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!” (Psalm 32:1-5).

What’s David’s counsel to us? “Let everyone who is godly pray to You in a time when You may be found” (Psalm 32:6). So turn to Christ today, while grace and mercy awaits and know the joy and relief of forgiveness of sins.