6 Reasons the U.S. May Not Be the ‘Worst Hit’ Country by Coronavirus

IHME Projections Indicate U.S. Will Not Surpass Several European Countries by October 1

David Shuey
5 min readJul 1, 2020
The moment when New York Times on March 26 said the USA was “hardest hit” by the coronavirus pandemic and I knew media was misrepresenting data. If you read those highlighted words to an Italian doctor or nurse they may scowl and hit you upside the head with their N95 mask.

“USA is doing worse than any other country in the world since it has the highest number of deaths, hospitalizations and reported cases. And it’s also running on a rising epidemiological curve. Period.”

This was a real quote from a coronavirus Facebook group admin and statistical-minded PhD that I wrote about June 28. It was a peppy article filled with graphics — as I’m apt to do and will do here, too — about the way politics and agendas can become a religion. Basically, it renders otherwise intelligent people incapable of processing information critically. They repeat mantras told to them in news articles, books, social media, and in real life, too.

I also wrote about the importance of differentiating per capita outcomes vs. countries like the U.S. with large populations.

And if you close your eyes and think, you can probably imagine you’ve heard those words before about the U.S. being “hardest hit” by Covid-19. You may have even said them yourself. But is it true? Will it remain true?

For example, if I tell you the U.S. is actually the 9th worse off country in terms of deaths according to Worldometer and Johns Hopkins, would you believe me? Or would you reply saucily, “No, that’s not what I’ve been told. And Brazil is number two so why are they 16th on this chart below you’re shoving in my face? Stop being so pushy.”

I’d then ask you if that has to do with your politics and feelings about Trump’s handling of the crisis. I’d suggest it may have to do with the sources you’ve read, and how you’ve settled on how to judge outcomes. I’d also point out that coronavirus racial disparities by race are measured by per capita rates, so why shouldn’t countries be?

Six Major European Countries Have Higher Per Capita Death Rates from Covid-19 Compared to the United States

June 29 screenshot: U.S. is 9th in Coronavirus deaths per capita. SOURCE: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

Now I know the U.S isn’t doing great, as that Bart Simpson chart at the front end of this article would show you. As well as CNN here from this past weekend:

It’s been in the news cycle for almost four days straight, too.



Yet I believe strongly that the U.S. isn’t this vast outlier uniquely suffering from this terrible pandemic, let along “doing worse than any other country in the world.” Why do I think that? Well, I run the numbers and look at rate rather than whole sums.

I’ve also looked at IHME data from the University of Washington and looked ahead to October to see that the U.S. may only pass France by October 1 in suffering the most deaths per capita. But Belgium, United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, and Sweden will actually still be well ahead of the U.S.

And get this: By October it’s possible several other countries across South and Central America may pass the United States, as well as some in the Middle East and elsewhere. They’re catching up. That’s tragic, because many don’t have the healthcare capacity of the U.S. I honestly haven’t had the time to play with the tool that much, but those instructions are below to test yourself.

That’s relevant as CNN and other media deliver headlines like this one below:

That compels me to run the data from Worldometers and touch up their chart:

Interestingly, the numbers show that Europe also only has 14% of the world’s confirmed cases. Europe does have a slightly older population, but looking closely not by much. The U.S. has 16% of their country age 65 or older, and most of the countries in Europe are around 18–20%, with Italy topping out at 22.8%.

Here’s the bottom line: Per current projections by IHME, Spain and the UK could have ZERO new deaths from today and the U.S. would still not reach them by October 1. If the U.S. even got to 200,000 deaths by October 1 that would put them at 606 deaths per 1 million rate, well short of where Belgium is currently (840 per 1 million).

You Can Play with IHME’s Analytical Tools Which Update Regularly

  1. Go here: https://covid19.healthdata.org/united-states-of-america
  2. Click “compare” tab on left side,
  3. Click “select a location” in the middle
  4. Pick different countries like “Mexico” or “Belgium”
  5. Slide the bar all the way to the right and see how they compare with the U.S. on October 1.

These are the projections based on screenshots taken June 29:

Belgium vs. U.S. (and Guatemala)

United Kingdom vs. U.S. (and Spain)

Italy vs. U.S. (Spain Again!)

France vs. U.S. (France Comes Out Ahead)

Mexico vs. U.S. (Not a Good Sign for Central America, Sadly)

… And that’s how I know the U.S. isn’t the “worst off” and “hardest hit” country by coronavirus and the media, partisans, and ideologues have been selling us short.


Do stories like this make you think: “Well, if it were hundreds of thousands of Trump voters protesting for two weeks, would we be getting the same research results and media coverage?”

I trust science. I hate to be that cynical these days. But it’s hard not to be.



David Shuey

Writer. Researcher. Designer. Human seeking better outcomes for all. Empiricism, relevant facts, and logical arguments > simple narratives.