For months, it has been impossible to ignore the nonstop news coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fear and confusion have gripped millions as politicians and public health officials have weighed in daily on projected death rates and preventative measures that may or may not protect you and your loved ones. The numbers of new cases and death tolls have flashed on screens without pause.
Entire states shut down their economies, schools, and even their park systems. 330 million Americans were asked to sit quietly at home and wait until they had “flattened the curve.” Over 3 months have passed and states are moving through phased openings with varying degrees of success.
But many people are still living in fear. Businesses that are open are operating at severely reduced capacities and following strict guidelines. Large venues remain closed for the foreseeable future and small businesses are struggling to stay afloat. Elective and possibly life-saving surgeries have been canceled and non-COVID patients are afraid to go to emergency rooms for treatment. Suicide hotlines are overwhelmed and alcohol sales have increased by approximately 55% despite bars and restaurants being closed.
So is the fear warranted? Are the life-saving measures that have been put in place worth the economic and emotional fallout?
The Current Death Rate of COVID-19
When the World Health Organization (WHO) and Dr. Anthony Fauci weighed in on Coronavirus estimates back in early March, they estimated terrifying death rates of 3.4% and 2%, respectively.
Shortly thereafter, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) projected 1.7 million deaths due to COVID-19 based on a 0.8% death rate.
By comparison, the seasonal flu death rate is around 0.1%, or 60,000 Americans, each year.
As it currently stands, it would appear that the fatality rate for COVID-19 actually falls somewhere around 0.26%. The CDC admits that this is an estimate and new data is available daily; it is still possible for the death rate to be as high as 0.4%.
This would mean that Coronavirus is up to 4 times as deadly as the seasonal flu, but Dr. Fauci’s original prediction would have been an overshot of 500%.
There are currently over 107,000 deaths due to COVID-19 reported in the United States.
Why Even These Numbers May Be Inflated
Accurate reporting has been a challenge in the fight against COVID-19. Reports have surfaced that hospitals are listing COVID-19 as the cause of death for all of the deceased who tested positive at time of death, even if it was not the direct cause of death. In New York, COVID-19 can even be listed as the cause of death based on symptoms experienced prior to death, not a ‘positive’ test result. Testing access has been limited and those that do not experience extreme symptoms are encouraged to recover at home.
Currently, our system of counting cases is limited to counting the cases only of those admitted to a hospital. Of these cases, it is much more likely that the symptoms are severe and that the patient will die.
As states reopen and transmission increases, those that are asymptomatic or experiencing mild symptoms will likely never be tested and will never be included in any reporting of cases. Even those that do receive a test with a ‘positive’ result will not be counted unless they are admitted to a hospital for treatment.
In short, until testing is widespread, accurate, and thoroughly reported from all testing facilities, there will not be an accurate fatality rate.
Additional Information is Necessary
In addition to needing better basic reporting of number of cases, there is also a need for more information from those who experience severe symptoms. Ages, existing medical conditions, medications, and other factors could all give a better understanding of who is most affected and most at-risk after contracting the virus.
There is also a need for explanation of predictions and where numbers are drawn from. The general public does not have a clear understanding of how death rates are being calculated and who is most at-risk.
Issuing stay-at-home orders and encouraging people to “stay home” has also been damaging to immune systems, as both sunlight and fresh air have been proven to increase health. A recent study confirms that midday summer sunlight can kill up to 90% of coronavirus on surfaces in 34 minutes. Closing gyms and parks eliminated exercise for millions of Americans, further decreasing immune health. Americans need better guidance from health officials on how to maintain optimal health; staying inside is not the answer.
Fear Cannot Drive our Decisions
Fear and anxiety have gripped the nation and influenced decisions that will leave ripples for years, if not decades. The physical, emotional, and financial repercussions will be severe, including but not limited to depression, suicides, alcoholism, weight gain, job loss, foreclosures, and homelessness.
Even with the inflated predictions and inaccurate reporting, it is clear that the threat of Coronavirus has been more damaging than the virus itself.