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COVID-19 Death Toll and Rate Not Adding Up

Charts and articles throughout the internet are saying there have been about 47,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S and 848,000 confirmed cases, as of April 23. Using these numbers, the death rate would be 5.5 percent. These raw numbers are supposedly what have justified the lockdown of our society. But as we learn more about how widespread the virus is, and how presumptive doctors are being when classifying a death as caused by COVID-19, we also learn that these raw numbers alone are not telling the whole story.

Let me start by asking "Where's the smoking gun?", the smoking gun, in this case, being a reflection of the COVID-19 death toll in the number of deaths from all causes nationwide.

I'm not trying to be melodramatic, but typically there are 50,000-65,000 deaths per week in the U.S. If COVID-19 were as serious as the media and government are saying it is, one would think there would be at least a little bit of an uptick on the graph on this page that shows total deaths per week in the worst times of the pandemic, March and April. But the numbers have remained normal, around 52,000 to 64,000 deaths per week. These numbers are premature, but then so are all the death tolls for COVID-19. Many may then say once the final numbers come in the death toll from COVID-19 will be higher, but given the scrupulosity with which they are recording COVID-19 deaths I doubt that will be the case. It's more likely that many deaths we thought were caused by COVID-19 were either just deaths with COVID-19, or just presumed to be caused by the virus. Those two false conclusions alone are very feasible since more than 99 percent of people who get the virus do not die from it, and since the virus' symptoms are very similar to the flu.

Cases of COVID-19 can be inaccurate. Deaths from COVID-19 can also be inaccurate. It may take time to get those numbers right. But the number of deaths from all causes can be reported more quickly because autopsies, tests and studies are not required--at least not as much. So, if there were a serious pandemic, it would show in the number of deaths from all causes, since that number would see at least a slight increase. The way I'm seeing it though, recent weeks have not seen more deaths than, say for example, January 2018 when there were about 287,000 deaths or about 65,000 per week in the U.S.

As with all matters surrounding this pandemic, we will not know the full truth until more time has passed. I just think it's curious that the CDC is willing to admit the numbers are premature in the article linked above, while there is no such disclaimer connected to the death toll being reported all over the news and internet. We have to be impartial with our estimates and presumptions. If we are saying not enough time has passed for us to have accurate numbers, we have to admit that that means the numbers could be higher or lower than suspected--since we could have presumed a death was from COVID-19 just as often--if not more often--as we could have missed a COVID-19 death.

We're now hearing that the first COVID-19 death, or deaths, were likely weeks before the first one reported in the U.S. This means the deaths from all causes statistic should have had even more time than suspected to reflect an increase, due to COVID-19.

In what time has passed, we are seeing more encouraging numbers than those of the original projections. We were told over two million Americans could die form COVID-19. That number is what justified the lockdown. However, more and more doctors and studies are coming out saying COVID-19 is not as fatal as first presumed.

Said Dr. John Ionnidis, physician-scientist, "Our data suggests that coronavirus has around the same fatality rate as seasonal influenza." Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, professor of medicine at Stanford University, agrees. And this is without a vaccine or a treatment. With a vaccine, we would hope, that fatality rate would go down even more. The fatality rate for the flu is about 0.1 percent.

Yet this is not the story the media wants you to hear. We're constantly being told how dangerous this coronavirus is, and that the shut down of society was justifiable. Perhaps it was when we knew so little about the disease, but now as more and more study results come in we should remodel our action plan according to the facts.

When the number of cases are given, it's confirmed cases. But new studies are coming out that are sampling small parts of the American population, and these studies are revealing a much higher level of infection in the population at large. Thus, if the infection is more widespread, that would mean the virus is less deadly. In Los Angeles, County, a study shows that between 2.8 and 5.2 percent of the population has an antibody to the virus. (That equates to 221,000-442,000 people.) Another study in New York Presbyterian Hospital tested 215 pregnant women from March 22 to April 4, and found 33--or 15 percent--of them had COVID-19, while 29--or 14 percent--of those infected had no symptoms. If those pregnant women were representative of the population of New York City at large, that would mean between one and two million people in NYC alone were infected. The death rate does not seem so dire if that's the case. The death rate goes down even more if you consider the fact that many doctors are saying COVID-19 was the cause of death, 1.) even if the deceased never tested positive for the virus, but the cause of death was presumed to be COVID-19, 2.) even if the deceased had COVID-19 but most likely died of other causes.

There have been thorough data collected on the number of deaths associated with COVID-19, but apparently more research is needed to see how widespread the disease is. Once we gather more data on the number of cases, we will probably see that it is not any more fatal than the flu--and therefore a shutdown of society was not necessary. In fact, when we add up the number of deaths from the flu and COVID-19, it may still amount to that of a bad flu season. Let's do more studies so we can make more informed decisions. Let's face our fears and face the facts.

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This article was updated on April 24, 2020.

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