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America’s death gap

America’s death gap

Author HeadshotBy David Leonhardt
New York Times Daily News
Sept 1,2020

A memorial in Washington last week for those who died from the coronavirus.Olivier Douliery/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Here’s a jarring thought experiment: If the United States had done merely an average job of fighting the coronavirus — if the U.S. accounted for the same share of virus deaths as it did global population — how many fewer Americans would have died?
The answer: about 145,000.
That’s a large majority of the country’s 183,000 confirmed coronavirus-related deaths.
No other country looks as bad by this measure. The U.S. accounts for 4 percent of the world’s population, and for 22 percent of confirmed Covid-19 deaths. It is one of the many signs that the Trump administration has done a poorer job of controlling the virus than dozens of other governments around the world.

By The New York Times | Sources: World Bank and Johns Hopkins University
The specific numbers are only estimates, of course. They are based on virus statistics that are unavoidably incomplete. Most scientists believe the real U.S. death toll is higher than the official numbers indicate, and undercounting of deaths may be even greater in some other countries.
After the U.S., Brazil and Mexico have the next largest gaps between population share and official death share. They are also countries with less advanced medical systems, where some experts think the actual death toll is vastly higher than the official one. If that’s right, the true gaps in Brazil and Mexico may be as large as the U.S. gap.
But no other affluent country has nearly so big a gap. Canada and several European countries each account for a greater percentage of deaths than population, yet the differences aren’t nearly as severe as in the U.S.
And some countries, like Australia and South Korea, have a positive version of the gap. Japan is home to 1.7 percent of the global population but less than 0.2 percent of deaths. An additional 12,000 Japanese residents would not be alive if the country had merely an average death rate.
As I was putting together these numbers, I started thinking about how Americans should have expected their country to fare — above average, below average or maybe right near the average. The U.S. certainly has had some disadvantages in fighting the virus: It’s an international travel hub, which makes transmission more likely, and it had some of the affluent world’s worst health outcomes even before the virus arrived.
On other hand, the U.S. remains the world’s richest country, with vast medical capabilities, and the virus started on a faraway continent. All of which suggests that there was nothing inevitable about the U.S. performance. It is instead a tragic reflection of the country’s failed response.

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