COVID-19: Where We Stand Now

COVID-19 is setting records for press hysteria and draconian government action. For the first time in our history–for that matter, human history, as far as I know–the healthy are being quarantined, with catastrophic consequences for hundreds of millions of lives, our health care system, our economy, and much else. For what? Is this year’s coronavirus really a crisis of unprecedented proportions, as we are constantly told?

The numbers don’t seem to bear that out. This is a simple bar chart that I have posted several times before, with updated numbers. The bar on the left is the average number of deaths resulting, worldwide, from the seasonal flu virus, according to the World Health Organization. The next bar is the total worldwide fatalities due to the COVID-19 virus, again according to the WHO. The third bar is the 62,000 deaths in the U.S. from the flu virus just two years ago, the 2017-2018 season, per the Centers for Disease Control. The fourth bar represents U.S. Wuhan virus deaths so far, again according to the CDC:

Global COVID-19 deaths are still not half-way to the average flu season, according to the WHO. You may suspect the current number is an undercount because the Chinese are not accurately reporting their fatalities. I am sure that is true; I suspect it is also true of Iran. If we assume that China’s fatalities are actually ten times the number they have reported to the WHO, and Iran’s three times the number reported, then worldwide COVID deaths would represent 54% of an average seasonal flu toll.

In the U.S., the death total is starting to approach our flu total of two years ago. It is not clear that this is an apples-to-apples comparison, given the CDC’s loosening of standards for diagnosing a COVID-19 death. We know that doctors have complained of being pressured to classify a fatality as COVID-19 when the connection to cause of death is tenuous or non-existent:

I just want to be clear in terms of the definition of people dying of COVID. So, the case definition is very simplistic. It means that at the time of death it was a COVID-positive diagnosis. So that means if you were in hospice and had already been given, you know, a few weeks to live and then you were also found to have COVID, that would be counted as a COVID death. It means that if, technically, even if you died of a clear alternate cause but you had COVID at the same time it’s still listed as a COVID death. So, everyone that’s listed as a COVID death doesn’t mean that that was the cause of the death, but they had COVID at the time of death. I hope that’s helpful.

COVID-19 is setting records for media hype and political reaction. For actual fatalities, not so much.