Coronavirus Statistics: Gross or Per Capita Data?

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Self-reported national caseload data has the United States as the world leader in COVID-19 cases and deaths. This assumes that the Chinese government is faithfully reporting its case data, an assumption that we have little reason to believe, and have good reason to suspect is untrue. Even so, are gross figures the best way to measure the relative severity of national COVID outbreaks?

When you adjust for population size, the mortality rate in the United States is not as high some peer nations:

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How useful are population-adjusted data in the context of COVID and other infectious diseases? It depends what question we’re trying to answer. On one hand, adjusting mortality data for population size places countries on a more-equal footing and allows for clearer international comparisons. On the other hand, infectious diseases don’t care how many people live in a country (population density, not size, seems more relevant to the regional disparities we’re seeing around the world).

What ultimately matters is the rate of change in caseload and mortality over time, which we already knew to be the central concern. Here is a comparison of that growth rate in some countries from the chart above:


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