Otago Daily Times

The numbers tell a grim truth

Lyn­ley Hood com­pares like with like and gets a re­minder Covid­19 is noth­ing like the flu.

- Lyn­ley Hood is a Dunedin writer. Oceania News · Infectious Diseases · Health Conditions · Louisiana · Dunedin · New Zealand · World Health Organization · Bienville, Louisiana

IRETURNED from eight days in Louisiana on March 12, en­riched with me­mories of mu­sic and food, of plan­ta­tions, bay­ous and pad­dle steam­ers, and of all the fes­tive and friendly folk who made my trip so mem­o­rable.

Back in Dunedin, the mood was far from fes­tive. New Zealand had five con­firmed cases of Covid­19. The World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion had de­clared a global pan­demic the pre­vi­ous day.

From a safe dis­tance, fam­ily, friends and neigh­bours greeted me with one voice: “Wel­come home,” they said. “We hope you’re go­ing to self­iso­late for 14 days.” So I did.

I was al­ready self­iso­lat­ing when the re­quire­ment for over­seas ar­rivals to do so be­came of­fi­cial. I was still self­iso­lat­ing when the lock­down en­abled my hol­i­day at home to con­tinue un­in­ter­rupted.

Then as now, I check the Covid­19 de­vel­op­ments in New Zealand each day, and am re­as­sured. No­body knows how long this pan­demic will last, but I’m con­fi­dent the task of cop­ing with what­ever hap­pens is in the best pos­si­ble hands.

Then I check the Covid­19 de­vel­op­ments in Louisiana, and I worry. I worry about Nathan, who gave me his cat­fish recipe, and about Cyn­thia, who solved my book­ing gl­itch by giv­ing me the glo­ri­ous Napoleon Suite at Bienville House. I worry about Ashleigh, who in­tro­duced me to the re­al­i­ties of slav­ery at Whit­ney Plan­ta­tion, and about Dave and his jazz band at Cafe Beignet. Are they OK?

As a sci­en­tist by train­ing and tem­per­a­ment, I ig­nore the toxic lies of at­ten­tion­seek­ing char­la­tans, and as­sume that all my in­tel­li­gent, well­ed­u­cated, nor­mally ra­tio­nal ac­quain­tances are do­ing the same. When I dis­cover this isn’t al­ways the case, I have to act.

I know that com­par­ing the Covid­19 death toll in New Zealand with the Covid­19 death toll in Louisiana would be point­less. There are far too many vari­ables to con­sider. But I can com­pare like with like. So that’s what I do.

To test the claim that Covid19 is ‘‘just like the flu’’, I com­pare the New Zealand death toll from Covid­19 in

2020 with the New Zealand death toll from in­fluenza and pneu­mo­nia in years past. Then I do the same for Louisiana.

For ac­cu­rate data on in­fluenza and pneu­mo­nia deaths, I go to the of­fi­cial mor­tal­ity statis­tics for New Zealand and Louisiana. This an­nual in­for­ma­tion isn’t pub­lished un­til all the death cer­tifi­cates, coro­ners’ re­ports and rel­e­vant hos­pi­tal records have been care­fully eval­u­ated, and the pri­mary and un­der­ly­ing causes of ev­ery death that year have been con­clu­sively de­ter­mined — which can take a while.

That’s why, for both New Zealand and Louisiana, the most re­cent an­nual mor­tal­ity statis­tics avail­able on­line are for the years 2014 to 2017.

I dis­cover that the to­tal pop­u­la­tions of New Zealand and Louisiana were sim­i­lar dur­ing those years (NZ 4.61 mil­lion, Louisiana

4.66 mil­lion), as were the av­er­age num­ber of deaths per year from in­fluenza and pneu­mo­nia ( NZ 764, Louisiana 778).

But Covid­19 has been with us for only seven months. At the time of writ­ing — Septem­ber 30

— the of­fi­cial death toll from Covid­19 in New Zealand stands at 25, and the of­fi­cial death toll from Covid­19 in Louisiana stands at 5308.

When I com­pare the Louisiana data for Covid­19 (more than 5000 deaths in seven months) with the Louisiana data for in­fluenza and pneu­mo­nia (be­tween 700 and 800 deaths per year), I know be­yond any shadow of doubt that Covid­19 is noth­ing like the flu.

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 ?? PHOTO: REUTERS ?? Y’all lis­ten now . . . A sign re­minds peo­ple to wear masks to pre­vent the spread of Covid­19 at Tulane Uni­ver­sity in Louisiana.
PHOTO: REUTERS Y’all lis­ten now . . . A sign re­minds peo­ple to wear masks to pre­vent the spread of Covid­19 at Tulane Uni­ver­sity in Louisiana.

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