The Corona Virus Pandemic has brought America, and the world, to a halt. In a world-wide reaction unseen for any previous pandemic, the lives of nearly every human being on the planet have been impacted. All of this has been done in the interest of slowing the spread of the virus, containing the pandemic, and saving lives. But is the cure worse than the disease?
The answer to that question depends entirely on the virulence of the virus – best measured by the mortality rate. The mortality rate can be calculated in many ways but the simplest is the number of deaths divided by the number of infected patients. For EBOLA virus the rate is generally believed to be 50 – 90% depending on the outbreak. For MERS the rate is about 35% and for SARS the rate is around 10 percent. These high mortality rates surely warrant measures as stringent and pervasive as what we are experiencing with COVID-19 (Corona).
But recent statistics show that COVID-19 has a mortality rate of less than two percent. As I write this post Sunday, the 29th, the U.S. mortality rate is 1.7%.The Corona Virus Task Force recently announced testing in the U.S. has exceeded testing in South Korea for the first time. As testing increases, the likelihood is the mortality rate will decline as the denominator in the equation gets larger. Even so, there are many more people probably infected with mild or no symptoms who are not being tested, yet should be included in the accurate calculation of a mortality rate. The true mortality rate is therefore more likely much less than 1.0%.
The United States now has more cases of infection than anywhere in the world. This reflects our large, diverse population and mobile society, but more importantly, our widespread testing. We are now testing over 100,000 Americans per day and even though only those with symptoms and a fever are being tested, only about 9% test positive.
The South Korea mortality rate is 1.5%. The rate in Germany is 0.8%. Rates are higher in other countries such as China, Italy, and Iran where medical treatment systems are not up to the standards of countries like the U.S. and South Korea. Once again, accurate mortality rates are difficult to calculate unless all citizens are actually tested and all positives are included in the calculations. Results from totalitarian states like China and Iran are especially unreliable.
South Korea is perhaps the best model of Corona Virus response in a highly developed medical system. Corona virus statistics from there are considered highly reliable and have given us much needed information. For example, we know that 99% of actives case in the general population are “mild” and do not require specific medical treatment. These people are staying home and recovering in approximately 14 days.
We also have learned that the small number of cases requiring active treatment are highly concentrated in the older population. The risk of mortality is 3 times higher for people over 70 than for those ages 60 to 69. The risk of mortality is 2 times higher for those over 80 than for those ages 70 to 79.
Dr. David L. Katz, a specialist in preventive medicine and public health, writing in The New York Times, says the time has come to focus our resources on testing and protecting all those people the data indicate are especially vulnerable to severe infection: the elderly, people with chronic disease and the immunologically compromised. Those that test positive could be the first to receive the first approved antiviral therapies.
However, he says the rest of society should return to life as usual while maintaining good hygiene, washing hands regularly, and self-isolating when sick. Healthy children could return to school; healthy adults go back to their jobs. Travel should return to normal. Theaters and restaurants could re-open, though very large social gatherings like sports stadiums and concerts might still be wise to avoid.
Dr. Katz says, “So long as we were protecting the truly vulnerable, a sense of calm could be restored to society. Just as important, society as a whole could develop natural herd immunity to the virus. The vast majority of people would develop mild corona virus infections, while medical resources could focus on those who fell critically ill. Once the wider population had been exposed and, if infected, had recovered and gained natural immunity, the risk to the most vulnerable would fall dramatically.”
There is a point in this Pandemic when the extreme measures being taken now to prevent spread of the virus even to healthy individuals will come at tremendous expense to the economy and the lives of millions of Americans. When economic depression sets in, the number of deaths related to suicide, drug addiction, alcoholism, and domestic violence will escalate and may greatly exceed those caused by the Corona Virus. We are rapidly approaching that situation and all Americans should be prepared to accept a higher risk of a mild viral infection in return for resumption of a more normal life style existence and restoration of our economy.