As the United States surpasses a half-million deaths from COVID-19, many are attempting to put the death count into context.
Here’s a bit of context for Michiganders: The current pandemic has been the deadliest event in state history, at least in raw numbers.
Michigan reported its first coronavirus death on March 18 last year. In the 11 months since, the state has recorded 16,343 COVID-19 deaths, which includes 15,362 confirmed by a positive COVID-19 test and 981 probable deaths based on symptoms.
That’s the equivalent of wiping out the entire population of Traverse City, and part of Old Mission Peninsula, too.
It exceeds the number of Michiganders killed in World War II and the Vietnam War combined — and both of those events lasted years.
Two events — the Civil War and 1918 flu epidemic — had slightly fewer deaths than the current pandemic, but were more deadly when compared to the state’s population at that time.
There were 14,753 Michigan soldiers who died during the Civil War; 4,448 deaths from combat and the rest from disease. Based on the state’s current population, that would equate to 196,441 deaths over a four-year period.
During the 1918 pandemic, more than 15,000 Michigan residents died of influenza or pneumonia between October 1918 and April 1919 — the equivalent of 43,000 deaths today based on the state’s current population.
Here’s a ranking of deadly events in Michigan by the numbers:
- COVID-19 pandemic: 16,343 deaths to date.
- 1918 flu pandemic: 15,000 deaths.
- Civil War: 14,753.
- World War II: 12,885.
- AIDS epidemic: 8,798 deaths since 1987.
- World War I: 5,000.
- Vietnam War: 2,649.
- Korean War: 1,242.
Through the 19th and first part of the 20th century, Michigan also had a high number of deaths each year from communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, diphtheria and typhoid fever.
In 1900, 869 Michigan residents died of typhoid, equivalent to about 3,500 deaths based on today’s population. The worst year for diphtheria was 1921, when 954 died. Tuberculosis was an even worse scourge: During the 1920s, it killed an average of 3,000 a year, a decade when the state’s population went from 3.5 million to 4.5 million compared to 10 million today.
Still, even against the historic record of communicable disease in Michigan, COVID-19 stands out.
In the past 12 months, COVID-19 has become the third-leading cause of death in the Michigan, behind heart disease and cancer.
Indeed, the virus has killed more people in the past 12 months than lung cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, traffic accidents, drug overdoses, homicides and suicides combined.
Experts say there is real hope the pace of COVID-19 deaths will slow considerably as the nationwide vaccination program ramps up. The state is currently averaging 29 COVID-19 deaths a day, down from more than 100 deaths a day in December.
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