Will COVID-19 Reduce Death in Canada?

April 10, 2020

Today I looked up the total number of deaths in Ontario due to COVID-19.   The numbers are much lower than what could happen, and when taken in context, things are actually going well.   Ontario has had 200 deaths associated with this virus, and while it may be more, (unknown or unattributed deaths may be missing due to testing limits, deaths that are not appropriately associated with the outbreak and other factors), that number is really good.

Only the callous would suggest that 200 deaths is a ‘good’ thing, but the rate of death in Ontario may actually be declining.

The top six leading causes of death in Canada in 2018 were:

  • Cancer (79,536)
  • Heart Disease (53,134)
  • Stroke (13,480)
  • Accidents (13,290)
  • Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases (12,998)
  • Influenza and Pneumonia (8,511)

Speculation would suggest that accidental deaths will decrease while people are staying at home.   Interestingly fatalities due to motor vehicle accidents represent a very small number here.  (Canada reported 1,922 fatalities in road accidents and 9,494 serious injuries in 2018.  Ontario recorded 578 deaths.)  It would be safe to assume that accident rates, on and off the road, are currently in decline. 

Similarly there is good research into the negative effects of air pollution on health.  Canada estimates that air pollution is causing 14,600 premature deaths per year.    There is a good chance those numbers will improve as we dramatically curtail the use of fossil fuels.

Of course there will be other changes as well.  Eating habits may be altered as we stay in place, people may relax more as this new reality reduces activity levels (think parents who don’t have to run to never ending school and sports activities).   Of course there is plenty of angst, and arguably, stress levels may increase too.   The data collected will be analyzed for many years to come due to the unprecedented nature of our response to COVID-19.

Canada is famous for our clean air and open spaces, and while our air is a bit better, it is almost always good.   Around the world, some of the most polluted cities (such as those in India and in China) are experiencing dramatic drops in air pollution during lock downs.  This should lead to improvements in respiratory health.

Overall, Canada in general, and Ontario in particular is doing a good job at preventing the spread of COVID-19.   Having taken the situation seriously beginning in early March, the spread started declining relatively early in the outbreak. Flattening the curve will reduce the unintended consequences of death due to lack of resources as well.

covid-confirmed-cases-since-100th-case (20200410)

[Note that the four countries selected, Canada, USA, Sweden and South Korea, have all taken a markedly different approach to containing the outbreak and the effects are particularly noticeable in the data.]

The number of confirmed infections around the world has risen dramatically again over the past week, perhaps due to improvements in testing.   Given testing levels in Canada, it appears that our outbreak is not terrible.  The curbs on travel, on large gatherings and citizens staying home have almost certainly prevented a far more serious situation.

In essence, we have not yet figured out how to protect against COVID-19, but we can flatten the curve by avoiding unnecessary contact with others. It is working and it is saving lives in many ways.

At the time of writing, Ontario had 5,759 total cases, or 27% of total Canadian cases

With 200 of the 509 deaths (39%) it is in-line with with the 39% of the Canadian population.

The current data from Canada suggests a mortality rate of about 2.5%, but that number is misleading for many reasons.   (1) Deaths won’t be accurately associated with COVID-19 for many weeks; (2) infection rates are not likely accurate.   This calculation uses confirmed cases; (3) some carriers/infected may be without symptoms (asymptotic) or recover without going to hospital.

Finally, it is worth noting that those 27,000 cases and 509 deaths represent a very, very small portion of our nearly 38 million residents.  If we continue to stay isolated, the risk of spread and consequently of death, will remain extremely low for most Canadians.

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