Victor Davis Hanson // National Review
California is touchy, and yet still remains confused, about incomplete data showing that the 40-million-person state, as of Sunday, April 12, reportedly had 23,777 cases of residents who have tested posted for the COVID-19 illness. The number of infected by the 12th includes 674 deaths, resulting in a fatality rate of about 17 deaths per million of population. That is among the lowest rates of the larger American states (Texas has 10 deaths per million), and lower than almost all major European countries, (about half of Germany’s 36 deaths per million).
No doubt there are lots of questionable data in all such metrics. As a large state California has not been especially impressive in a per capita sense in testing its population (about 200,000 tests so far). Few of course believe that the denominator of cases based on test results represent the real number of those who have been or are infected.
There is the now another old debate over exactly how the U.S. defines death by the virus versus death because of the contributing factors of the virus to existing medical issues. Certainly, the methodology of coronavirus modeling is quite different from that of, say, the flu. The denominator of flu cases is almost always a modeled approximation, not a misleadingly precise number taken from only those who go to their doctors or emergency rooms and test positive for an influenza strain. And the numerator of deaths from the flu may be calibrated somewhat more conservatively than those currently listed as deaths from the coronavirus.
Nonetheless, the state’s population is fairly certain. And for now, the number of deaths by the virus is the least controversial of many of these data, suggesting that deaths per million of population might be a useful comparative number.
As I wrote in a recent NRO piece, the state on the eve of the epidemic seemed especially vulnerable given the large influx of visitors from China on direct flights to its major airports all fall and early winter until the January 31 ban (and sometime after). It ranks rather low in state comparisons of hospital beds, physicians, and nurses per capita. It suffers high rates of poverty, wide prevalence of state assistance, and medical challenges such as widespread diabetes.