Kentucky COVID: Are there more deaths from the fire hose than the fire?

When COVID made it’s debut in Kentucky, I remember writing that the choice between preserving life and unimaginable societal destruction is impossible. But limiting living for all to prevent death in the very few was a tactic history might judge harshly. The truth is that no sensible person would argue that COVID isn’t real or that the pain of these limitations isn’t staggering. No sensible person doesn’t empathize with families that are losing loved ones or families losing their livelihoods, non-COVID health battles or freedoms.

We are, like it or not, between the devil and the deep blue sea here. And if we don’t start making decisions based on the full contextual information available to us, the wrong that’s most right may not be what we think it is. Or, said another way, we could be drowning more with the fire hose than perish from the fire.

The Toll of Death

Surely, we can agree preventing deaths is generally good. But to understand the COVID death impact, you first need to understand—deaths. People die every day. In Kentucky, normally 49,000 or so people die in a year, 4200 per month or 134 per day. It’s pretty fascinating how consistent that number is. It rarely varies 1000 deaths beyond the 5 year average or around 3.5% . But in 2020, we should expect the numbers to increase because we are in a pandemic and more people are dying. When comparing the COVID weeks (March to now) of deaths over the last 6 years, here’s what we see:

To be expected, right?  ‘Excess Deaths” – or deaths above the average that’s very consistent from year to year — have nearly doubled in 2020 over the normal variance intervals and is clearly because of COVID. Right?

You may want to put down your fire hose now.

When looking at excess deaths by age, the numbers were bothering me. And inspired by great works from @Anjin-Erasmus, @ifihadastick and @justin_hart on Twitter and the KY COVID-19 Data & Statistics Group on Facebook, I dug a little deeper:

Despite COVID deaths coming overwhelmingly from senior citizens, the excess deaths in younger ages were up—significantly. Only 13 COVID deaths in the 25-44 age group but excess deaths were up by 206? That’s over 15% where a normal variance would be 3.5%? 65-74 is up 400 non-COVID deaths?  That’s over 10%? They may seem like small numbers but we are limiting societal function for around 330 non-nursing home KY COVID deaths. So, how many non-COVID excess deaths are we looking at…or more to the point, not looking at?


Here is the data for the COVID weeks (per the end of last week because that’s the lag in CDC data):

Wait a minute. People are moving around less, driving less, doing less stuff to die from—especially younger people. Wouldn’t sheltering in place lead to a lower non-COVID death rate? There’s been no war. No huge terrorist attack. Pneumonia and Flu deaths are down during this time compared to previous years (hmmm). But don’t recessions lead to like 40,000 deaths for every 1% increase in unemployment? No–you’re watching too many movies. That stat came from “The Big Short” and referenced reseach that is nearly 100 years old. In fact, when recessions hit there are increases in many kinds of deaths (self-harm, healthcare delays) but decreases in others (driving and other accidents) and the numbers stay–about the same.

There’s no major event or even series of events outside COVID virus deaths that could explain this unusually high variance in excess deaths, right?

What about lockdown life?

Less elective procedures and regular physician visits lead to less early discovery of severe illnesses. Stress and anxiety are health conditions that lead to one of our biggest killers – heart disease. Cancer diagnosis is down 46.4% compared to prior year numbers, what could go wrong there? Loss of income, businesses, relationships, housing and normal human interaction have issues related to mental illness skyrocketing. Nearly one third of all Americans are experiencing clinical depression. From that comes awful implications of substance abuse, violence or self-harm. Then factor in the non-death impact of this limited way of life—economic, social, mental and physical health and one can start to think that lockdown life is hurting more than it’s helping.

While the CDC doesn’t publish real-time cause of death, you can’t ignore that the only major spike in excess death we’ve experienced in nearly 2 decades coincidentally arrived during a universal restriction on our way of life. 

It's likely that people are dying from the fire hose.

1,381 > 805

There are more excess non-COVID deaths than COVID deaths by a pretty wide margin—and at an alarming scale for ages 25-44.

This doesn’t prove that lockdowns kill (yet) even though many other state numbers are following the same pattern. But I’m sure this is all a big coincidence. In the Governor’s words. “…if this saves just one life…” I guess that would mean a COVID life is somehow worth more?

Rational arguments, individual liberty and logic have been replaced by one-sided, emotional storytelling and parental governance without exercising a single element of critical thinking. And it’s working. Many, many of our fellow Kentuckians are gleefully compliant. 

Here’s a great example of the impact: “All your graphs just say Andy is saving our lives.” Well, after reading this article, ‘ya sure? And by that same logic all we have to do is hide indefinitely from anything that can harm us–no matter the cost–and we’ll all live forever. 

But if emotion is what it takes for you to open your mind to a bigger point of view, I encourage you to read the words of a 20 year old kid. She isn’t mourning the losses from COVID. She’s mourning losses from lockdown living. Please take the time to read this. I don’t think you’ll regret it


All data has been compiled from the CDC and other elements are sourced from the links in the article. The results are calculated and analyzed over a period from March 2020 through the week of August 10. Important to note that the <25 age analysis only goes to week 29 instead of week 32 because Kentucky’s data reporting to the CDC is terrible. <25 analysis is benched against previous years through week 29