COVID, Sky Diving, Driving & Armed Robberies: Understanding Risk


“All of this for a virus that has a 99.98% survival rate”, they say as a rebuke of any reasonable response to the pandemic that has raged on since March.

It didn’t take long to notice just how many Americans were, pardon the brevity, piss poor at understanding risk. After another exchange on Reddit tonight, maybe it’s worthwhile to break down the risk in a few activities.

As a starting point, best to understand the risk of COVID-19. These numbers vary wildly depending on age and other health risk factors, but in order to best make the point, we will look at the risk factor for a young, healthy adult. Further, we will only be looking at the fatality rate. I am hesitant to grant this point; 35% of SARS-COV-2 patients who had been treated said they had not returned to their usual state of health 3 weeks after being discharged. As this is a novel virus, we can only estimate on the long term effects, but research shows that up to 40% of those who have had SARS illnesses have experience long term effects.

All that to say that death is not the only way this virus can impact it’s victims. But again, for sake of simplicity and to show just how much risk COVID represents, we will only consider it’s fatality rate.

According to the CDC, the survival & fatality rate for the below age groups is as such:

0–19 Years: 99.997% / 00.003% / 1 in 33,333
20–49 Years: 99.98% / 00.02% / 1 in 5,000
50–49 Years: 99.5% / 00.5% / 1 in 200
Over 70 Years: 94.6% / 5.4% / 1 in 20
Source: Center for Disease Control

And again, for sake of demonstrating the severity of the risk, we will use the low end of these —the 99.98% survival rate of a healthy adult. Which means if you are 20–49 and contract COVID, you have a 1 in 5000 chance of dying.

So what’s all the fuss about with a number that low? Well, put bluntly, that’s a really fucking high rate of risk.

“Driving to Work is More Dangerous”

(Image Credit: Dan Gold / Unsplash)

I’m not sure where this painfully ignorant take started. While it’s not even close, let’s jump in. There are about 39,000 automobile related deaths in America every year, which comes out to be about 1 in 8,450, or just under one half as dangerous as COVID.

But Americans drive a lot. So let’s look at the chance of dying by automobile on any given day, assuming an average commute of 16 miles each way. On average, an American is killed every 82 million miles of driving. So the chance of being killed in a car accident on any given day of average commutes? About 1 in 3 million.

So no, COVID-19 is not less dangerous than driving, not even for a healthy adult, and not even for an entire year’s worth of driving.

Sky Diving

Tame, by their standards. (Image Credit: Filipe Dos Santos Mendes / Unsplash)

Just the thought of sky diving makes my heart race a little bit. Those who have done it report an incredible rush, and why not? As far as human activities go, it’s among the riskiest of our behaviors. So surely sky diving has to be at least as risky as this “no big deal” pandemic, right?

According to the United States Parachute Association, there were about 3.3M jumps in 2018, and 13 deaths. Which means jumping out of a plane will kill 1 in 253,846 times.

Turns out driving is far more dangers, and COVID-19 is more dangerous than both.

Armed Robberies

Medium risky? (Image Credit: Maxim Hopman / Unsplash)

Let’s switch it up; up to this point we’ve looked at acts the we do out of necessity or out of hobby, both much safer than this pandemic. But what about finding yourself in a violent crime?

What are the chances of dying if you find yourself on either end of an armed robbery? According to the FBI, there were 345,000 robberies in 2013, and 686 murders stemming from those incidents. That represents a survival rate of 99.8%, or about 1 in 500. ‘But that’s a better chance than surviving COVID-19!’ Well, yes, it is, but only by a factor of ten. For walking into an armed robbery.

Or, put another way, you are ten times more likely to survive COVID-19 than survive an armed robbery, but you are 600 times more likely to survive your daily commute than being killed by the coronavirus, and you are 50 times more likely to survive jumping out of plane than you are surviving a COVID-19 diagnosis.

Bonus Round: Plane Crashes

“Grandma, don’t miss your flight!” (Image Credit: ABC News)

While researching this, I found another interesting parallel in plane crashes. According to the NTSB, the survival rate for plane crashes is actually quite high, at 95.7%. The fatality rate of this dwarfs that of COVID-19 — if you are healthy. It is actually right about the same fatality rate as COVID-19 is for someone over 70 years old.

So let’s say you like to live dangerously, and a pandemic that has the risk factor of driving 27,000 miles, or jumping out of 600 planes isn’t enough for you to change your behavior; if having contact with your parent or grandparent on their way to the airport guaranteed they’d be in a plane crash, would you do it?

Or would you take the threat you presented towards yourself and others a little more seriously?

Follow Michael Francis on Medium and Twitter for more, as well as on Facebook and Instagram.

Politics, philosophy, culture. Just trying to make the world a better, place. BS Finance. Follow me everywhere @MFrancisWrites. “I know that I know nothing.”

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