January 6th, 2022
I recently had a bit of a debate with a friend (one of few who still believe in rational debate!) and that induced me to organize some notes I’d made on the risks of vehicle accidents vs. Covid.
Laying that out here in case anyone is interested…
Death Rate Comparison – Vehicle Accidents vs. Covid
The reason I’m making this comparison is to make the point there are risks in life that we find acceptable and unremarkable. The fact that every time you get in your car you have a certain risk that you will end up in the hospital, or possibly dead, is one of those.
There are many other routine risks we take every day – people are hospitalized and die of slip and fall accidents, drowning, food poisoning, random diseases, etc. Everything in life has a risk/reward ratio.
There is risk inherent in taking a bath, but most people are willing to take that risk because the alternative would be unpleasant. The question is not “can we reduce the risk of everything in life to zero”, but “is the risk we take doing the things we want to do acceptable given the rewards.”
In this analysis I’m using the risks involved in using a car for transportation as my yardstick because they are well documented by reliable sources, easy to find raw data, and something that – like Covid – is applicable to the population as a whole.
For accident data, I’ll use the UC Berkeley “Transportation Injury Mapping System” data system.
For Covid data, I live in San Diego County so I’m using the San Diego County Health Department’s data on Covid – as provided through the San Diego Union Tribune.
[For death-related statistics you need to scroll down to the deaths, download the data, and filter for just this year…]
If anyone has any argument with these sources you’re welcome to make that argument, but barring some exceptional revelation I have to say I trust both sources (with some questions, as outlined below.)
Spreadsheets with both data sets as analyzed are available if anyone wants to look at the raw data sets or calculations.
This is, of course, the scientific method – publish your data and findings, let everyone see what is behind them and critique if they would like to do that.
If you want to, go for it, I’d be happy to discuss.
I’m going to use 2019 accident data as my baseline – because we know that 2020 and 2021 have been unusual years for accident data, representing time periods where most people have significantly reduced their time on the road – and not because the wanted to but in most cases because they were forced to.
That is not a “normal” situation, so we’ll use 2019, the last “normal” year for car travel.
I’m going to compare that to the Covid risk “as of the latest data” (which, as of this writing, was 12/26/21) because that risk is changing all the time and the critical issue here is “what is the risk right now, with all the vaccines and mitigation processes we have”, not “what was the risk a year ago…”
I’m using “deaths” as a proxy for “serious complications” because the fact that someone died is somewhat indisputable. I’ve done similar numbers on “hospitalizations” for Covid compared to “injury accidents” in vehicles and that is a bit more “gray”, it’s not quite apples-to-apples. Deaths are pretty clear-cut.
For vehicle accident deaths, we see in 2019 there were 252 of those in our county.
For covid-related deaths from January 1 to December 26 2021 we have 2653 deaths. We don’t quite have a full year but we’re pretty close so I’m going to use that as an annual total.
In raw numbers, one could say “10.52 times as many people died of covid than died in vehicle-related accidents”, and they would be correct.
However what is important is not the overall risk to everyone but the risk based on specific groups of people.
If you never travel in a car, your risk of death in a vehicle-related accident is pretty close to zero. There are pedestrians killed, but in very small numbers compared to vehicle crashes.
Likewise there are deaths all the time related to hypothermia. Does the fact that this happens mean I should never leave my San Diego home without a parka on? Most people would see that as ridiculous.
Why? Because while there may certainly be risk to some of dying of hypothermia (ask my Minnesota relatives in January), the risk to me in San Diego is pretty close to zero.
Overall risk is a good number to know, but the risk to each person based on their own situation determines what precautions that person needs to take.
If we look at the detail on Covid deaths, we see they’re heavily weighted toward older people and those with “underlying medical conditions” (usually called “comorbidities.”)
83.19% (2207) of Covid deaths are people who are 60+. And 95.51% of the deaths are among people with comorbidities.
Applying the risk of Covid death for people with underlying medical conditions to those without them is like applying the overall risk of vehicle accidents to people who never get in a car – and using that as an example of “how dangerous it is to drive.”
If we exclude those with comorbidities, total Covid related deaths among healthy people drops to 98 people. In the entire San Diego County (3.3 million people).
This means a healthy resident of San Diego County with no comorbidities has a 0.0029% chance of dying of Covid, or about 3 per 100,000.
Back to our vehicle accident comparison…
Since in this same population 252 people died in vehicle accidents in a year, this means the raw chance of a normally healthy person dying in an accident is 2.6 times greater than dying of Covid.
So, if you’re a healthy person with no underlying medical conditions, you’re three times more likely to die in a car accident on the way to the doctor’s office than you are to die of Covid.
And of course that’s without factoring in the effects of vaccination, which we’re told reduce that risk up to 90%.
Or the fact that Omicron appears to be significantly less dangerous.
Or the fact that we’re now finding the numbers of “hospitalizations for Covid” are greatly inflated, routinely including large numbers of people hospitalized for other things but simply testing positive for Covid.
Since we’re there now, let’s do some analysis factoring those things in and look at risk groups.
How about “people under 60”?
Of the total accident deaths, 187 of those deaths were people under 60.
Of the total Covid deaths, 673 were under 60, and 644 of those had underlying medical conditions. Only 29 did not have comorbidities.
Based on our “under 60” vehicle accident total of 187 people, a person under 60 with no health issues is almost seven times (6.45x) more likely to die in a vehicle-related accident than of Covid.
But yet you get in a car every day, don’t you? And you routinely allow your loved ones to travel with almost zero thought to safey. Every day.
If you are truly interested in maximizing your safety, don’t drive to your Covid test – walk or take the bus.
Those are just facts, and seem pretty indisputable. If you believe UC Berkeley on accidents and San Diego County on Covid.
Now… let’s factor in some new developments, from equally verifiable, if albeit recent, studies.
The latest data on the Omicron variant from South African studies (where Omicron was “born”) shows the death rate decreased 10.7 times with Omicron.
If we just call it “10 times lower”, and apply that to our 2021 case numbers we see if all were Omicron total deaths last year would have been reduced to 265.
That means even for people with underlying medical conditions the overall chance of dying of Covid (265 people) would then be only slightly higher than dying in a vehicle accident (252 people.) About 1.05 times greater, pretty close to equal.
And of course some of those people with underlying conditions would have succumbed to those conditions without Covid being involved. We don’t know how many, but we do know the number is unlikely to be zero.
If we apply the same logic to “people under 60 without comorbidities”, that decreases the risk another 10 times, which would drop the number of deaths from 29 to 2.9.
Comparing the “under 60” vehicle death rate of 187 to the “under 60 infected with Omicron and no other health issues” death rate of potentially 3 people, that means for that group getting in a car is about 62 times more dangerous than Covid (62.33x).
If you’re one who worries about Covid, are you seriously telling me you’re going to get in that car today? Really? I’d really advise you to walk to that Covid test instead.
Yes, I know not everyone who gets Covid will get Omicron. That likely overstates the potential decrease in Covid deaths, but so far all the reporting says the vast majority of new cases are Omicron.
And the hospitalization and death rate data seems to support declines in both as a percentage of infected people.
What if every “Covid-related” hospitalization or death was not really directly related to Covid?
What if some were “incidental diagnosis”, meaning people who were checked in (or died) of other things but just happened to test positive in the hospital (because everyone in a hospital is tested these days?)
Both Stanford University and UC San Francisco did a study of children hospitalized “for Covid” earlier this year and found that about 40% of kids logged as being there “for Covid” were actually “incidentally diagnosed”.
In other words, yes, they tested positive for Covid, but that’s not why they were actually there.
Do you believe Stanford and UCSF?
Or, if you’re a Fauci fan, do you believe him?
“Fauci suggested that some of the children currently being treated at medical facilities were hospitalized with COVID as opposed to “because of COVID.”He added that some children who are currently listed as being in hospital with COVID may actually be receiving treatment for “a broken leg or appendicitis,” rather than for a severe reactions to the virus.”
And we’re now finding this is not just speculation.
A recent study done by New York State, found “New, Preliminary State Data Shows Half of People In NYC Hospitals with COVID-19 Were Admitted for Other Reasons” and further reporting confirms that in other areas.
Now, as a caveat, this number applies to hospitalizations – not deaths. I have not yet seen studies relating to covid-related deaths. Perhaps every single one of them actually WAS directly due to Covid, not people who died of other things who tested positive.
But from what we’ve seen in the hospitalization numbers, where we’ve gone through almost two years of hysteria about “our hospitals being overwhelmed” and are now finding out – in small sidebar stories that never seen headlines on the front page – that 50% of those numbers are likely wrong, I think it’s safe to assume at least some “covid related deaths” are not actually directly due to Covid.
The hospitalization number ranges from 30 to 50%, so I’ll use 40% as a preliminary estimate.
If that is true and applicable to deaths, removing 40% of the “covid-related” deaths from the data would give us a final total death number of 1592, and “healthy person” deaths of 58.8.
Which means even if we leave out any potential decrease in risk from the Omicron variant and being vaccinated, the chance of anyone without underlying conditions being killed in a vehicle accident would now be 4.28 times higher than Covid.
And the “healthy under 60 crowd”?
Their risk becomes of driving becomes 14.4 times greater than Covid.
How vanishingly small does the risk have to get before we say it’s not allowable for our government to take away our rights to “protect” us from it?
Would you tolerate your government restricting your right to drive beyond the restrictions already in place simply because it would reduce the number of potential accidents?
Let’s talk about mask wearing a bit….
Does the wearing of masks reduce the transmission of Covid? Likely the answer to that is yes, lots of studies have been done that indicate that.
But… how much?
A recent huge study done in India involving 350,000 people gives us an answer.
A slightly more readable summary of the study published by Stanford Medicine says:
“There were significantly fewer COVID-19 cases in villages with surgical masks compared with the control villages.”
What is “significant”?
“When the researchers considered only those villages that received surgical masks (omitting villages that received cloth masks), the reduction in risk increased to 11%“
But how about cloth masks – which are easily 90% of what we see around us every day?
“Although there were also fewer COVID-19 cases in villages with cloth masks as compared to control villages, the difference was not statistically significant.”
If you read into the actual study, “not statistically significant” means they found a 5% reduction with cloth masks, fyi.
And we know that there is SOME risk to wearing a mask, there are conditions that are either created or exacerbated by mask wearing, so those numbers would be offset by increase in those risks (which we can’t quantify, but again are NOT zero….)
The National Institute of Health, in their study Is a Mask That Covers the Mouth and Nose Free from Undesirable Side Effects in Everyday Use and Free of Potential Hazards? says:
“we were able to demonstrate a statistically significant correlation in the quantitative analysis between the negative side effects of blood-oxygen depletion and fatigue in mask wearers with p = 0.0454.”
You may feel those negative side effects are not worth the “statistically insignificant” reduction in risk from wearing a cloth mask, or you may choose to wear a surgical mask that may actually reduce your Covid risk, that’s up to you.
The point is that mask wearing does not have the slam-dunk “duhhh” obvious benefits that people who don’t pay attention to the data think its.
Back to our comparison to vehicle accidents…
We know there is a direct relationship between speed an car accidents. And, fortunately, there have been studies done of that, like “the relation between speed and crashes”
There is no data table here so I have to approximate from the graph in Figure 1, but it looks like the risk of fatality at 80mph is about 45%, and the risk at 70mph is about 35%.
What if the government said they were going to require governors on every car that limited the maximum speed to 70mph “because it will reduce the risk of fatality by 10%”
Would you accept that? But yet you’re going to accept being forced to be masked (or vaccinated) to reduce an even smaller risk by an even similar or even smaller amounts?
These are questions based on an analysis of the actual facts, from actual data. Not media spin designed to induce fear.
With that, I need to be clear about something.
Often those who succumb to Covid hysteria who don’t want to think about the actual numbers will now accuse me of being a “Covid denier” or opposing reasonable measures to combat it.
If that’s you, you are wrong, because that is not me.
Covid is certainly real. People in risk groups should take every measure they feel is appropriate to protect themselves, including mask wearing and being vaccinated.
If you’re still afraid, you have some very powerful things you can do to reduce your risk from “very little” to “almost nothing”, and far be it for ME to attempt to tell YOU what you should do to allay your fears.
But let’s not pretend that your failure to understand the numbers and the low risk involved, and your (I feel) excessive fear somehow gives you the right to decide what other people do with themselves. Whether they work or not, whether they’re allowed to go to school, or the right to decimate small businesses and create shortages of healthcare workers and teachers.
Or in any other way allow our government to interfere with the normal rights we all have as Americans under the Constitution.
Be safe, be healthy.
Just don’t impose your rules on others.