Thursday, April 01, 2021

"Excess deaths" as a result of COVID precautions more than set off by deaths saved

In another case of "be careful what you wish for", and another example of how slippery statistics can be, there are two conflicting narratives around non-COVID deaths.

News articles are bemoaning how many more people have died from non-COVID causes this year, due to cancelled operations, fewer hospital transfers from long-term care homes, and other related changes arising from the restrictions out in place for the coronavirus. It's tough to tease apart the figures, but by some estimates there have been an additional 13,000 "excess deaths" over the last year as an indirect result of the pandemic (this includes things like increased deaths from substance abuse, which is hard to attribute).

Set against that, though, is a large decrease in deaths fron the annual flu season, largely as a result of the strict public health measures imposed to combat COVID. This year, there have been zero deaths from the flu in Canada, compared to an annual death toll of between 6,000 and 8,000, and only 66 confirmed cases, as compared to an average of 43,000.

Also, to be set against the "excess deaths" figure are all the potential COVID deaths that have been avoided by those same public health measures, an unknown (and unknowable) statistic that could range into the hundreds of thousands.

So, once again (see my last entry, on the mental health fallout of the preventative measures), a narrow focus can give a very skewed impression of what is really happening.

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