Day Four: Big Numbers

The empty parking lot at the usually slammed Wulf Rec Center in Evergreen, Colorado.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said today that we may lose 100,000 to 200,000 people to this. It strikes me that this is a rather large +/- window. It also made me realize that I desperately needed some context. Humans are bad at comprehending large numbers. It just wasn’t relevant when we were evolving. This article has some great tricks for conceptualizing bigger numbers, but what I wanted was an idea of what this means relative to the population.

People who are better at math than I am are probably way ahead of me here. I plugged the US population of 327.2 million people, and the high estimate of 200,000 into an online calculator, and got 0.06%. That is to say, .06 in every hundred, .6 in every thousand, and, finally getting to whole numbers, six people in every 100,000.

For more context, I turned to Our World In Data, which provides graphs and charts for public use. This is the US in 2017:

So theoretically, this is scarier than driving, about as scary as all the other respiratory diseases combined, but we’ll all still most likely be killed by cancer and heart attacks.

I don’t know how to feel about this information. I want to feel a little bit of relief. Those are pretty good odds. But that feels like a betrayal of those six people in 100,000 and their loved ones. And of course, these are Dr. Fauci’s estimates, based on models, based on factors that may or may not change. The man left himself double his own estimate as a margin of error, which says something about his confidence on this one.

And it, of course, says nothing at all about my risk vs. my elderly parent’s risk. To say nothing of the fact that 100,000 to 200,000 is a staggeringly large number of people.

I have improved my intellectual grasp of the situation, but I’m still boggled.

Signing off. Stay safe, everyone, and take care of each other.

2 thoughts on “Day Four: Big Numbers

    1. clmcdermid Post author

      I assume it is under the rubric of respiratory diseases, lumped in with asthma, COPD, emphysema, bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, and whatever other viruses and bacterial infections are going around. Which, when you break it down like that, is pretty scary.


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