Just how bad is COVID-19 in Ector County, Texas, right now?

Short version:
As many people have died of it between July 1 and today as die all year from influenza/pneumonia in the seasonal flu’s worst years

Please stay in, wash your hands often, and wear a mask when out

Long version:
As of today, there were 27 deaths in Ector County from COVID-19.

Ector County COVID Data Dashboard, July 17, 2020

Twenty-seven deaths doesn’t seem like a whole lot for a county of more than 160K, but we also don’t have a great standard of comparison for what “a little” or “a lot” is

To try to get an idea, traffic fatalities are usually something the news covers as significant. People die in wrecks in West Texas at rates about 5x higher than the state as a whole, probably due to the distances involved, the oil field, and being on Interstate 20 where a bunch of mixed traffic goes.

2015: 54
2016: 34
2017: 48
2018: 54
2019: 53

Source: Texas Department of Transportation

Probably there are fewer than normal in 2020 due the bust and COVID-19 restrictions changing people’s behavior to keep them around the house more. We’ll find out eventually how much traffic deaths are tied directly to the economy.

It makes us sad to see someone cut down unnecessarily, but it’s priced into life and the economy, and we move on. Fifty people a year, more or less, will die for the economy to be able to go on and people to have freedom of movement.

From that frame, 27 deaths a little more than halfway through the year doesn’t seem so bad. Why in the world are we shutting everything down for a bad case of the flu that a lot of us probably already got and didn’t realize it? You want us to give up driving next?

The CDC actually allows us to get an idea what people die of in Ector County, including influenza/pneumonia using their Wonder.CDC.GOV tool.

  • 20 deaths from influenza and pneumonia in 2019, a rate of 12.0 deaths per 100K people (#11) wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html
  • rate of 12.3 deaths per 100K people (#11 leading cause) wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html
  • 15 deaths from influenza and pneumonia in 2017, a rate of 9.55 deaths per 100K people (#14) wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html
  • 16 deaths from influenza and pneumonia in 2016, a rate of 10.2 deaths per 100K people (#14) wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html
  • 22 deaths from influenza and pneumonia in 2014, a rate of 4.3 deaths per 100K people (#12) wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html

Now, 2018 was actually a really bad flu season, but the world didn’t end when we had 20 people die. A natural question might be, “Why are we making people go through all of this economic suffering when just seven more people have died of COVID-19 than died in 2018 from flu/pneumonia?”

The first answer is that, if that framing were true, we actually ought to be treating the regular flu more seriously: staying home when we’re sick, wearing masks, taking extra precautions on top of washing our hands. It’s one of the leading killers almost every year, more than homicide.

But the real answer is that as of July 1, there were only eight deaths total from COVID-19.

So in 16 days since, there have been 19 deaths, more than usually die of the flu all year. Worse, it’s still accelerating: there were 13 deaths in the previous 7 days.

But assuming that rate just plateaued because everyone kept doing exactly what they are now, we still have something that kills 1-2 people per day. If that keeps up, that would be the most deadly single cause of death in the county by a wide margin, stretched out over a whole year.

All diseases of the heart had 324 deaths in 2015, or a rate of about 203 deaths per 100,000 people, and the deadliest thing to kill people going back to 2014. You have to die of something, and the heart will do it eventually.

As of July 17, the US has a COVID-19 death rate of 42.9/100K, well below heart trouble.

If Ector County hit that, we’d be looking at something like 65-70 people dead from COVID-19 total for the year, a bit more than Alzheimer disease in 2018

Yet that’s not how it works. Texas is at 13.5/100K right now while New York State is 167.2/100K. Even this understates just how bad things got for NYC and the state when for a period, more people were dying of COVID-19 than typically die of everything combined before they got it under control with stricter guidelines.

I would love for someone to double-check the CDC website and see that I’m wrong and the situation isn’t so bad. And I’d love for the county to release some aggregate data about what preliminary causes of death look for the year in case Ector County actually already have a hidden wave of coronavirus and pneumonia deaths.

But again: in two and a half weeks, the county has experienced the equivalent of all deaths from a really bad flu year. And there is no indication that things are getting better or will be able to go back to normal for months yet.

“Without police, what are you going to do when someone breaks into your house?”

What’s the worst year for homicides in Oklahoma City?

Obviously, it’s 1995, the year of the bombing. In a single day, there were 168 homicides.

So what’s the worst year for homicides in NYC?
Continue reading ““Without police, what are you going to do when someone breaks into your house?””

Guns don’t kill people, and backhoes don’t dig holes in the ground

On Wednesday, my post about the effect on suicides from widespread personal gun ownership in the United States got a fair bit of attention.

The title distracted a lot of readers from the content of the article, which isn’t surprising. Even for those who read it, there were a few common objections, which are collected here to be answered in more depth.

1. ARGUMENT: ‘The U.S. military doesn’t have a suicide problem. It’s actually lower than the general population when you consider most service members are 18 to 30 years old and male.’

Continue reading “Guns don’t kill people, and backhoes don’t dig holes in the ground”

The Second Amendment kills more U.S. soldiers than the Taliban

From 2010 to 2012, more people in the military died from suicide than any other underlying cause. Almost half were people shooting themselves in the United States with their private weapon.

Continue reading “The Second Amendment kills more U.S. soldiers than the Taliban”

How do U.S. abortion rates compare to natural child mortality?

A focus on death is not an intentional feature of this space, but the topic of prenatal death came up recently based on a conversation with someone about the idea of abortion as genocide.

Since 1973, each year in the United States there have been about one million abortions, give or take. Add that up and you get a very big number that can be insensitively used to make comparisons with The Holocaust.

So to give that perspective the benefit of empathy, let’s assume for a moment that all abortions involve removing from life fully formed persons, able to experience pain and terror and happiness. If all abortions performed in the United States during the past 40 years were actually late-term abortions, how would that compare to being born in the developing world where the leading causes of death for children 5 and younger are pneumonia and diarrhea?   Continue reading “How do U.S. abortion rates compare to natural child mortality?”

How often are prison guards killed transporting prisoners?

Eight prisoners and two correctional officers died in an accident near my hometown last week when their bus went off the side of an overpass, onto a moving train. It made national news, and my former coworkers did a great job all day letting people know what was going on as information came out, and putting it all into context by day’s end.

When hearing about a fatal train/prison bus collision, many people made the obvious connection, because that’s how we expect things to work, but the culprit seems to be icy conditions and very bad luck.

I can’t explain why the eight prisoner deaths seem so much more tragic than the two guards. Continue reading “How often are prison guards killed transporting prisoners?”