The media is obsessed with numbers. Every day for the last nine months we’ve been subjected to updates on the number of Covid-19 infections and the number of deaths.
There are two reasons for this obsession: they want us all to be fearful and they want Joe Biden to win the election. They want us all to be fearful because that gives them control over our lives. That increases our purchase of newspapers and keeps our eyeballs focused on television news. They want Joe Biden to win the election because they hate President Trump. By the time you read this, we may know if they succeeded.
But the larger issue concerns our fears. There are important questions to be answered. How dangerous is this Covid-19 pandemic? How much should we allow the media and our government to alter our lives? Is it dangerous enough to keep us from our work? Is it dangerous enough to keep our children out of school? Is it dangerous enough to keep us from worship in our churches?
If we’re talking about the common cold, the answer is obviously no. If we’re talking about the annual influenza season, the answer is the same, even though flu accounts for the death of between 25,000 and 80,000 Americans each year. No one every called for lockdowns and mask mandates even to prevent those deaths.
But the coronavirus known as Covid-19 has changed all that. Since it is new and therefore no one in the world has prior experience or exposure, there were many concerns about its unknown virulence. China lied about what they knew and the World Health Organization (WHO) promoted this disinformation. But the last nine months have answered some of those questions.
The WHO originally estimated the mortality rate at 3.4% in April. There were initial predictions of 500,000 deaths in the U.K. and up to 2.2 million deaths in the U.S. Over time these numbers were adjusted down to 100,000 – 240,000 deaths in the U.S. As I write this post, the world-wide death count has reached 1,206,866 and the U.S. death count is 236,501. With the number of Covid infections still rising (it will never actually decline), should we be worried?
A seroprevalence study in Santa Clara County, California in July estimated the true infection mortality rate somewhere between 0.12 – 0.2%. (Covid Mortality Rates Lower than Predicted) Others estimated the mortality rate between 0.3 – 1.5%. Most studies at that time put the rate between 0.5 and 1.0%.
Since July we have seen the development of improved therapeutics as evidenced by the rapid recovery of President Trump. An effective vaccine is likely only weeks to a few months from wide-spread dissemination. As the winter months approach, are we really looking at “a cold, dark winter” as Joe Biden predicts?
If you do the simple math of taking the number of deaths and dividing by the number of infections, you get the following results:
Country Total Infections Total Deaths Mortality Rate
United States 9,475,872 236,501 0.024%
Russia 1,655,038 28,473 0.023%
The World 46,940,949 1,206,866 0.025%
Since influenza rates of infection and deaths are only estimates, based on doctor-treated illness and hospitalizations, the mortality rate of typical flu is difficult to calculate. The CDC estimates for the influenza season of 2018-2019 are shown below. According to this graphic, the mortality rate varies from 0.4 – 48.7/100,00, depending mostly on age. This translates to overall mortality rates of 0.000004 to 0.0005 %. The highest mortality rate, as in Covid, is in the elderly population.
According to the Johns Hopkins Medical School, the WHO estimates 290,000 to 650,000 people die world-wide each year due to influenza. By these estimates, the current Covid pandemic has resulted in roughly twice as many deaths, or 1,206,866. This would make Covid approximately twice as lethal as a typical flu season.
However, the influenza mortality rates are based on loose estimates since little actual testing is done and there is no mandatory reporting requirement for influenza. A careful review of the tables above from the CDC shows estimates of 35 million cases based on approximately half as many actual medical visits, or only 16,520,350. The assumption by the CDC is that less than half of the number of influenza cases are reported.
By this methodology, the number of Covid-19 cases is roughly twice the number of those who tested positive. This is probably a very conservative number since the seroprevalence study of Santa Clara County estimated 50 to 85 times as many actual cases as known cases. If the actual number of cases is twice the number of positive tests reported, the mortality rate calculated above drops to 0.012% in the U.S. This number is almost exactly ten times lower than the previous estimate from the Santa Clara study of 0.12% – and they were estimating 50 times as many cases!
If you’ve gotten lost in all this statistical study, the take-home message is this: The Covid-19 virus is fatal in only about one to two in a thousand on average, and about one to two in a hundred in those elderly people who have other comorbidities such as heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, or obesity. Even these numbers are probably exaggerated since we know from anecdotal evidence that many deaths attributed to Covid were actually caused by other medical conditions.
Certainly, these numbers tell us Covid-19 is a significant threat to the elderly, especially those with comorbidities. They should be protected by all means possible. But if we had known this nine months ago, does anyone believe the world would have called for lockdowns and mask mandates for everyone?