The Statistics of Death

Dr. Stanley T. Wearden

Dear Members of the Methodist University Community,

I think a lot of us wonder just how serious COVID-19 really is. Should Methodist University continue its stringent safety protocols, or are we making a bigger deal of it than is actually warranted. Plus, there’s a lot of inaccurate information floating around. Recently, for instance, I overheard a conversation in which someone said more people have died in car accidents this year than have died of COVID-19. That didn’t sound right to me, so I decided to check an official source. After all, that’s what a liberal arts education teaches us to do – check the facts with a credible source.

I went to the information at the National Center for Health Statistics. This organization records causes and numbers of deaths in the United States each year. The most recent year I could find was 2018, but that’s close enough in time to make a comparison. The bar chart below has NCHS data on the 10 leading causes of death in 2018. Auto accidents are actually part of the “Unintentional Injury” category, so I put it underneath that category on the chart to show that 36,560 of the 167,127 deaths from unintentional injury in 2018 were caused by auto accidents (the other 130,567 unintentional injury deaths were caused by something other than an auto accident, such as a fall). I added “Murders” just out of curiosity. And, I added in a row for COVID-19 deaths so far this year.

Death Statistics

Certainly, heart disease and cancer killed a lot more Americans in 2018 than COVID-19 has so far this year, but I was surprised to see that COVID-19 is the third-leading cause of death, compared to 2018 data. It’s up to you to decide how serious you think COVID-19 is, but I found these numbers sobering.

And the numbers remind me of my duty to make sure we don’t become complacent about following our MU safety protocols. I don’t love wearing a mask, but I do it to help save lives.

Just something to think about.


Stanley T. Wearden, Ph.D.