Some countries did much better in combating the pandemic’s first wave.

There are many reasons why one country might have a much lower death rate during the pandemic than a neighbor. One country might resist spending more on preparations, or delay taking action for longer. If one were comparing a European country to the United States, one might wonder about delays in seeking medical care, given so many uninsured U.S. residents compared to the European standard of covering basic health care for all.

There is no point in comparing daily deaths in Germany (pop. 80 million) with those in, say, Denmark (pop. 6 million). If interested in which country handled the pandemic better, you want percentages instead — how many people in a hundred died. Since that results in fractional persons, we instead talk about deaths per million inhabitants. Countries varied dramatically in how well they slowed down the pandemic. Notice South Korea, buried in the baseline.

Once one corrects for population differences, the size and time course of the pandemic looks very similar in Germany and Denmark. They did something right that other European countries did not. South Korea did far better than any European or American country.

This is a log plot; those vertical divisions mark ten-fold increases. Now we can see that South Korea got hit early, a month after Wuhan in China, and that Italy’s deaths started up shortly after. But South Korea avoided the hundred-fold rise seen in Europe and after mid-April, brought the daily deaths down ten-fold. They must have done something right; soon, the epidemiologists might be able to tell us what, so we can better respond to the next wave of the pandemic. I am sure that economists are busy doing the same analysis for the economic hits in various countries.

There is nothing subtle about these differences between countries; some European countries saved three in four, or even nine in ten, compared to the worst countries. In the U.S., two out of three deaths might have been prevented if we had just done whatever Germany did; decision making at the top obviously differed. Angela Merkel was a physical chemistry Ph.D. before becoming a politician; the U.S. elected an amateur.

Such a brave, strong man to forego wearing a mask. Actually, it is contemptuous. Face masks are mostly for protecting others from your viruses in flying droplets during speech. They are not for protecting oneself from aerosol viruses hanging suspended in the air; face masks cannot filter anything so small.

I cannot yet tell you what factors (date contact tracing began to isolate possible carriers; date schools closed and large gatherings were banned; date stay-at-home began; date hospital overflows began) made such big differences. The epidemiologists will shortly begin publishing their analyses and models, hoping to understand the subject in time for us to prepare for a second pandemic wave and get through it without major damage to the economy recurring.

. . .

Plotting a rolling average gets rid of those dips caused by the weekend pause in clerical processing of death certificates — and so peaks on Mondays.

William H. Calvin, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle and the president of the His 17th book, Extreme Weather and What to Do About It, features a critique of the current climate message; describes five extreme weather shifts that occurred a decade ago; gives a justification for what makes climate an emergency now; considers design criteria for how to take the 50% excess of CO2 out of circulation; and offers a proposal for how to get started with a “Manhattan Project 2.0.”



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William H. Calvin

William H. Calvin


President, Professor emeritus, University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. Author, many books on brains, human evolution, climate