02 Apr 2020
COVID19: An simple exercise in evaluating information
I recently read this article discussing a possible coverup in the number of deaths from COVID19 in the town where it originated: the city of Wuhan in China, population around 11 million people. This is a great article to expand upon, in doing some basic sanity checks to check the numbers. There is another article from the NY Post which repeats some of the information in the first article here.
Warning: the thought of people’s loved ones being turned into a numerical body count is not pleasant, nor is it my intention to desensitize anyone to the value of life. I have spent quite a bit of time keeping all of this in prayer, after all Jesus is the great comforter, nonetheless there has to be an unemotional evaluation of information. And that is what I am doing here.
The article uses the following information to claim that the death toll is much higher than expected. These are the facts stated in the article.
 A Radio Free Asia analysis, for example, found Wuhan’s official death toll of 2,535 may be understated by a factor of 20.
 It reported seven mortuaries were handing families 500 funeral urns a day for well over a week.
 One took shipment of 5,000 urns in just two days.
 People in Wuhan have reported that the crematoriums have been running nonstop day and night.
If #1 is correct, the assumption is that the number of deaths could actually be 20 x 2,535 or around 50,000+. The article from business insider claims the factor is between 5 and 20, so the low end would be 12,500+.
Number 2 is either 7 x 500 urns (3,500) during a week if the seven mortuaries comprise the total number to together, or 7 x 7 x 500 (25,400) if each of the seven mortuaries handled 500. The context is not clear on this one.
Number 3 implies that a single mortuary took a shipment of 5,000 urns in a twoday period. If all 7 are doing this, that’s 35,000 urns in two days among those seven mortuaries.
Number 4 is hard to qualify with numbers and is more hearsay, and for this exercise can be disregarded.
So how does this compare to a time when COVID19 is not spreading?
Sometimes, the sheer volume of everyday things in the world eludes us. The cycle of life is one of them. We hear about the numbers of people dying from the virus, but what’s a typical count of people dying on any given day look like. That’s important to know, to keep perspective. And here is an easy way to calculate it:
 Go to Google and enter “world population now”. The result is 7.53 billion.
 Go to Google and enter “average lifespan worldwide”. The result is 72.6 years.
 If you take population and divide it by lifespan, you will come up with the average number of people born per year: 7,530,000,000 / 72.6 = 103,719,008 which is also the average number of people who die per year (although it will be lower than the birth rate, since population is growing).
 If you take the number of people born in a year and divide it by 365.25 (365 days per year, and include the extra day per leap year), 103,719,008 / 365.25 = 283,967
So on any given day in the world, 283,967 people are born, and roughly the same number come to the end of their life. Now a note about this number: 72.6 years is a median average. There are a number of people who die at younger ages, but the average is what we will use for this example.
So the epicenter for the COVID19 breakout is Wuhan China, a city of 11.08 million people (Google result again). To calculate the average deaths per day in Wuhan, we first calculate the percentage of the world’s population which lives in Wuhan (11,080,000 / 7,530,000,000) or 0.0014714475431607 (0.14714475431607%). Now multiply this by the average number of deaths per day in the world calculated above (283,967), and on any given day there should be roughly 418 people in Wuhan who die. And this number is outside of any COVID19 presence.
So does this make sense? And how do the numbers being talked about compare with this.
It’s hard to tell. Looking at number 3, a shipment of 5,000 urns in a twoday period could just be a regular restocking event. Assuming (and yes it is an assumption) that Wuhan has seven mortuaries, there would be 60 bodies delivered to each mortuary per day. 5,000 urns at a single mortuary would last 83 days, assuming all 60 per day were cremated and needed an urn. The arrival of urns themselves doesn’t indicate a rise in deaths, although a 60+ day stock on hand would seem higher than normal.
There are also other pieces of information which are missing and needed to do an accurate assessment:
 An accurate reporting of deaths, which does not seem to be forthcoming.
 Is the number of mortuaries in Wuhan actually seven, or are only seven of a higher number being discussed.
Just using the 418 deaths per day says that 2,226 people die per week, and 12,540 die in a 30day month. So the numbers of urns being handed to families and the numbers of urns arriving, by themselves, are not out alignment with regular usage.
Conclusion
As much as I hate to say it, there are a lot of people who are saying that the impact of this disease is being hyped above what it is actually doing. This type of article and its content actually argues for their point. Why?
 Accurate numbers of deaths would clearly show whether the disease is as dangerous as being reported, or not.
The article reports what people are reporting they have seen (second hand information), but makes no mention of whether any question was asked directly to the mortuaries themselves to see if they could provide any of:

 What is the normal daily use of urns, compared to the number used during the pandemic?
 What is the number of bodies your facility has processed in the pandemic, versus the same time last year?
 Whether the answers would even be given, or whether the information would be refused.
 Hearsay and unverifiable information only adds to speculation, and that gap of information only breeds fear and paranoia.
As much as I could borrow the Mythbusters rating system, I really can’t in this scenario. There are just too many information gaps. But looking at the scale of life and death I have shown, your challenge is now:
 To evaluate the number of people succumbing to the effects of this disease, while
 Keeping the value you put on life intact, and ever wondering
 How big is our God, when he states that he knows his own people, and not one will slip from his grip unnoticed.
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