Those COVID-19 Death Comparisons

Don’t be mislead by the folks making false comparisons about COVID-19 deaths.

Have you seen folks trying to compare COVID-19 deaths to other things?

What other things?

All Dr. Phil revealed was that he shouldn't have been talking about COVID-19...
All Dr. Phil revealed was that he shouldn’t have been talking about COVID-19…

Basically anything and everything, from smoking, drowning, and car accidents to the flu…

Those COVID-19 Death Comparisons

It’s not that surprising that those comparisons were made when the COVID-19 pandemic first got going.

It’s like Jenga?

But it is disappointing that some folks are still making these arguments.

“I’m not denying what a nasty disease COVID-19 can be, and how it’s obviously devastating to somewhere between 1 and 3.4 percent of the population. But that means 97 to 99 percent will get through this and develop immunities and will be able to move beyond this. But we don’t shut down our economy because tens of thousands of people die on the highways. It’s a risk we accept so we can move about. We don’t shut down our economies because tens of thousands of people die from the common flu.”

Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

What’s even worse, they seem to be using the arguments to discourage others from social distancing and wearing masks!

Fortunately, most people understand that you can’t really compare COVID-19 deaths to those other things.

It is like comparing apples to oranges. Sure, they are both fruits, but they aren’t the same kinds of fruits.

So why do some people make these false comparisons?

They do it to make you think that both sides of the argument are the same or are equal. After all, it makes easier to downplay COVID-19 deaths if ‘they’ can make you think they are the same as deaths from car accidents, drownings, and the flu, etc.

Instead of the death rate, it is more appropriate to use the case-fatality rate, which factors in the folks who actually had COVID-19.
Instead of the death rate, it is more appropriate to use the case-fatality rate, which factors in the folks who actually had COVID-19.

So why shouldn’t you make these comparisons?

For one thing, deaths from COVID-19 spiked suddenly. They haven’t been spread out over a year or many years, like deaths from car accidents, drownings, and cigarette smoking, etc..

“The demand on hospital resources during the COVID-19 crisis has not occurred before in the US, even during the worst of influenza seasons. Yet public officials continue to draw comparisons between seasonal influenza and SARS-CoV-2 mortality, often in an attempt to minimize the effects of the unfolding pandemic.”

Faust et al on Assessment of Deaths From COVID-19 and From Seasonal Influenza

Also, unlike car accidents and drownings, COVID-19 is contagious.

And don’t forget, we go to great lengths to reduce deaths from car accidents and drownings, with everything from seat belts, air bags, and life jackets to fencing around swimming pools and laws against distracted driving.

Does anyone say “life is about risk,” while throwing their toddler in the pool and walking inside?

We make efforts to reduce that risk!

What is your risk of being in a car accident?
What is your risk of being in a car accident?

We also go to some effort to understand those risks…

“If we overestimate our risk in one area, it can lead to anxiety and interfere with carrying out our normal daily routine. Ironically, it also leads us to underestimate real risks that can injure or kill us.”

National Safety Council on Odds of Dying

So what is your risk of being in a car accident?

Believe it or not, it is fairly low, with the average person filing a claim for a car accident once every 17.9 years.

And since only about 3 in 1,000 car accidents are fatal, the chance of you being in a fatal motor vehicle accident is also fairly low.

“The total number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. exceeds 115,000, outnumbering each of the leading causes of preventable injury death (58,908 preventable drug overdose deaths, 39,404 motor-vehicle deaths, and 37,455 fall deaths in 2018). However, the full impact of COVID-19 is even greater than the number of deaths and confirmed cases. The rapid increase in COVID-19 cases, the uncertainty regarding how long the pandemic will last and the disruption to normal everyday activities is impacting society like no other safety issue in modern history.”

COVID-19 Cases in the United States

How does that compare to getting and dying from COVID-19?

Where do you live? Are folks around you wearing a mask?

If you are working from home in a small town with few COVID-19 cases, then your risk is obviously much, much lower than someone who works around the public in a bigger city with rising case counts.

Do you have any risk factors for a more severe case of COVID-19?

While the overall case fatality rate is about 1%, that starts to go up as you approach age 50 and is higher for those with many chronic health conditions.

Most importantly, what are you doing to lower that risk?

Just like your risk of dying in a car accident is going to be much higher than average if you drink and drive, don’t wear a seat belt, talk on your phone, and speed, your risk of getting and dying from a SARS-CoV-2 infection is going to be higher if you live in or travel to an area with a lot of cases, are around a lot of people who aren’t social distancing or wearing masks, and you are in a high risk group.

The bottom line though, whatever your risk, are you going to take steps to increase that risk for your self and those around you or are you going to lower that risk?

More on COVID-19 Deaths

What is the COVID-19 Mortality Rate?

Do we know how deadly COVID-19 really is?

Knowing the COVID-19 mortality rate would help folks get a better understanding of just how concerned they should be about this new disease that is quickly spreading around the world.

New modeling from the CDC puts the COVID-19 case fatality rate at 0.1 to 1%.

Unfortunately, the widely different numbers we are hearing might contribute to some of the confusion people already have about the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

What is the COVID-19 Mortality Rate?

In general, the mortality rate for a disease is “the measure of the frequency of occurrence of death in a defined population during a specified interval.”

Defined population?

That’s not how many people have the disease. That’s literally how many people there are in the place you are talking about.

Instead of mortality rate, right now, what we really want to be talking about is the case fatality rate.

“The case-fatality rate is the proportion of persons with a particular condition (cases) who die from that condition. It is a measure of the severity of the condition.”

Mortality Frequency Measures

Still, differences in defining the “population” or cases has lead to differences in reports of case fatality rates from the CDC and WHO.

“There is now a total of 90,893 reported cases of COVID-19 globally, and 3110 deaths.”

WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 – 3 March 2020

The WHO reports a case fatality rate of 3.4% for COVID-19, which they get by simply dividing the 3,110 deaths by the 90,893 reported cases.

“This crude CFR is high: for comparison, the CFR for seasonal influenza is 0.1%. However, as I will show below, this number is not a one-size-fits all, and is influenced by many factors. Please do not look at 3.4% as an indicator of your risk of dying from COVID-19!”

SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus case fatality ratio

The CDC, on the other hand, is using a method that factors in the idea that there are likely many more mild cases that haven’t been officially reported. That gets them a much lower case fatality rate rate of 0.1 to 1%.

Only more testing will get us a more accurate case fatality rate for COVID-19.
Only more testing will get us a more accurate case fatality rate for COVID-19.

Then there is the large study on COVID-19 case fatality rates that did include suspected and asymptomatic cases, Characteristics of and Important Lessons From the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Outbreak in China. They found an overall case-fatality rate (CFR) of 2.3%.

“Epidemiologists think and quibble in terms of numerators and denominators—which patients were included when fractional estimates were calculated, which weren’t, were those decisions valid—and the results change a lot as a result.”

COVID-19 Isn’t As Deadly As We Think

What do these numbers mean to you?

They might be easier to understand if you compare the case fatality rate of COVID-19 to some other diseases.

DiseaseCase Fatality Rate
Rabies99.9%
H5N1 bird flu60%
Ebola50%
MERS34%
H7N9 bird flu25%
SARS15%
Yellow fever15%
Tetanus13%
Diphtheria5-10%
1918 flu pandemic1-3%
COVID-19*0.1-3%
2009 flu pandemic0.1%
Seasonal flu0.1%
Measles0.1%
A high case fatality rate doesn’t tell the whole story. It is also important to understand how likely it is for a disease to spread and get a lot of people sick. And a reminder that many vaccine preventable diseases are quite deadly!

Fortunately, COVID-19 is near the bottom of the list, and as we get more and more data, it seems like the official case fatality rate will continue to drop.

Still, since it is spreading at pandemic levels, that means a lot of people will get sick and could die, especially those in high risk groups.

Older people and people with severe chronic health conditions are likely at higher risk COVID-19 infections.
Older people and people with severe chronic health conditions are likely at higher risk for COVID-19 infections.

*How many? It’s too early to tell, as we really don’t know what the real COVID-19 case fatality rate is yet.

“Practice everyday preventive behaviors! Stay home when sick. Cover coughs and sneezes. Frequently wash hands with soap and water. Clean frequently touched surfaces.”

Preventing COVID-19 Spread in Communities

That makes it important to take steps to try and slow down the spread of SARS-CoV-2, especially to people who are at high risk.

More on the COVID-19 Fatality Rate