What is the Actual Death Rate? Higher or Lower Than Expected?
With a worldwide pandemic going on right now, it’s hard to gauge what the actual threat is. Coronavirus is obviously a severe illness and can cause death. However, it seems the risks are not all the same. Some people become violently ill and are defeated by the infection, while others seem entirely immune.
And with the virus being so new to the human population around the world, no one really knows enough about it to make for sure predictions or even assumptions about the death rate.
Sure, some have tried, but based on what evidence? Most studies are made up of those who have worst-case scenario symptoms and in places where the infection has hit the hardest.
Take Italy, for example. Their nation has been inundated with case after case, and its government and medical officials report a death toll hovering around 9 percent. But it’s is also a nation where socialized medicine has become overwhelmed under the strain of the virus. Most doctors are forced to choose who to treat, leaving all those over 70 to fend for themselves.
The World Health Organization or WHO has also made its own prediction of around 3.4%. WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus remarked on March 3, “While many people globally have built up immunity to seasonal flu strains, COVID-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity. That means more people are susceptible to infection and some will suffer severe disease. Globally, about 3.4 percent of reported COVID-19 cases have died. By comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1 percent of those infected.”
However, these numbers are based on those who have tested positive for the virus, and as we know, the tests are in short supply. This means that, for the most part, only those with known symptoms and who have recently come into contact with positive COVID-19 cases are being tested. So the sample of this study cannot be considered random by any means.
And yet still other studies, such as a recent one from Johns Hopkins University, note that in places like the United States and Germany, the death toll is only around 1 percent.
A study done by Harvard University and the University of Hong Kong in China, where the pandemic began, said, “We estimate that the overall symptomatic case fatality risk of COVID-19 in Wuhan was 1.4%.”
But once again, these findings are based on not so randomly completed and very limited tests, as well as a completely different type of healthcare infrastructure.
So which is the most accurate? Which one should be taken as fact?
According to Professor John P.A. Ioannidis of Stanford University School of Medicine, none of them should be.
He wrote in a piece published in STAT last week, that “The current coronavirus disease, Covid-19, has been called a once-in-a-century pandemic. But it may also be a once-in-a-century evidence fiasco.”
Ioannidis went on to explain that “the data collected so far on how many people are infected and how the epidemic is evolving are utterly unreliable. Given the limited testing to date, some deaths and probably the vast majority of infections due to SARS-CoV-2 are being missed. We don’t know if we are failing to capture infections by a factor of three or 300. Three months after the outbreak emerged, most countries, including the U.S., lack the ability to test a large number of people and no countries have reliable data on the prevalence of the virus in a representative random sample of the general population.”
Ioannidis points out that the only closed population that was tested was that of the Diamond Princess cruise ship. But even then, there are problems. He noted that the death rate here was only about 1%. However, the population was primarily made up of elderly persons, who are known to be more heavily affected by it.
We can try to project this onto the rest of the population, which, according to Ioannidis, gives a mortality rate of just 0.125%. But has he states, “this estimate is based on extremely thin data… the real death rate could stretch from five times lower (0.022%) to five times higher (0.625%).
However, in either case, these estimations are much lower than that of the WHO.
Does that mean we should throw caution to the wind? Absolutely not. But we say ‘yes’ to hope, hope that data we can actually use will soon be provided.