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What are the odds of dying from COVID-19 vs. lightning?

As more deaths occur, the risk of Covid-19 death continues to rise.
Credit: WQAD

We know what we should be doing to curb the spread of Covid-19, but what are the statistical odds you'll contract the disease and die from it?

About a year ago on social media, News 8 viewer 'Garrett' said, "You're about as likely to get the coronavirus as getting struck by lightning."

Eric Sorensen took this comment and got to work on the numbers. At the end of June 2020 the odds of dying to Covid-19 was 1:2,321. That number has changed dramatically since then. 

Last years statistics: 

Updated statistics as of September 29, 2021:

Credit: WQAD

How do we get these numbers ?

First, let's look at the statistics around lightning deaths. According to NOAA's Storm Prediction Center, 49 Americans are killed on average every year. In order to compute the odds of dying, we have to find the total population of the United States. That's 328,000,000.

In order to compute the odds, we have to assume that the people who live are successful and those who die are unsuccessful. 

The equation for odds is Chance of Success (living) divided by the Chance of Failure (dying).

Remember, if we swap this equation this would give us a percent. This would represent the amount of the total population that has died. This does not mean odds.

That yields a 1:6,693,878 chance of dying by lightning strike.

Using data for tornadoes, the Storm Prediction Center reports an average 25 deaths per year. 

That yields a 1:13,120,000 chance of dying from a tornado.

Before analyzing Covid-19 data, let's take a look at the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 50,000 deaths in the United States each year due to influenza.

That yields a 1:6,560 chance of dying from the flu. 

We have to keep in mind that this is on average for all people. Older people and those with underlying conditions have a higher risk of flu death. Conversely, those who are young and healthy, the risk is lower. 

When calculated the odds of dying from Covid-19 last year, we didn't have the illness around for a year yet so calculating the odds were a little more difficult. Last year the number of Covid-19 deaths used to calculate the odds was about 140,000. Now we officially have over a year of data to use. 

This time to calculate the odds, we have taken the amount of deaths from last year at this time and subtracted it from the total amount of deaths since the start of the pandemic. This number has come out to roughly 483,000 deaths in just one year. 

This yields a 1:679 chance of dying from Covid-19. 

Remember, the percent does not mean odds. If we flipped the equation it would come out to less than 1% of the total United States population has died from Covid-19.

So, what does this mean? The odds of a lightning fatality are like finding one random person in the entire state of Illinois per year (since Illinois has about 13 million people). 

The odds of a tornado fatality are like finding two random people from the entire population of the state of Iowa. 

The odds of influenza taking a life is like finding one person in the city of Eldridge, Iowa (population 6,500), as well as every group that size.

When we look at Covid deaths, the chance is considerable. Over the past year, the odds of Covid-19 taking a life is like finding one person in Cordova, Illinois (population 672).

In other words, we can't compare the very small chance of a lightning strike or tornado to Covid-19. 

Wear your mask, wash your hands, and stay safe!

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