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Myth #2: The COVID-19 mortality rate is over 5%… or over 3%…

The implication of the above myth is that anyone that contracts the disease has a more than 3%-5% chance of dying from it. This is my favorite myth because it is indefensible on multiple levels. First, consider how the mortality rate is calculated:

As we covered in myth one, we don’t know how many cases there have been. We pointed out that expert sources disagree by over 300,000. To make things really interesting, there are large volumes of unreported cases as well. How many? Well, New York state is officially reporting around 330,000 cases… but estimates there are 2.39 million current cases in New York alone, the vast majority of which are asymptomatic and therefore unreported.

Stick that in your denominator.

Even if the 2.39 million is exaggerated, look at it from a common-sense perspective. Which are more likely to go unreported: severe cases that result in hospitalization and death or cases so minor that people didn’t even get tested? Since it’s obviously the latter, it follows that if we had accurate data the denominator would grow much more on a proportional basis than the numerator, bringing the mortality rate way down.

Speaking of the numerator, what is a virus-related death? Worldometer, WHO, and the CDC all have different definitions. (Couldn’t find a definition for Johns Hopkins, but I’m sure it’s out there.) To make things even more interesting, the current WHO definition was not introduced until April 11, by which point they’d already reported 99,690 deaths.

But other than the numerator and the denominator, this is an accurate rate.

To make a few key points, let’s go ahead and assume total accuracy for a moment. Even then, the 5%/3%/X% would be a misleading number- as overall averages often are. All people are not created equal from a “risk of death” perspective. Breaking down the data into a few different subcategories:

Implications? The older we get the more lethal the virus is, and those with certain medical conditions are far more at risk than people healthy going in. (Note that the mortality rate for people with no pre-existing conditions was <1%.) This can be useful information to help target higher risk groups… but the point is that it debunks the notion of a one-size-fits-all mortality rate.

To learn how Ralph broke down the numbers, check out Orion’s Using Graphs and Charts to Analyze Data web class.

The rate is also broken down by country. The range for countries with a minimum of 15,000 cases is from 0.07% in Qatar to 15.9% in Belgium. If those numbers are anywhere close to accurate, then this isn’t a once-size-fits-all rate by location either.

By the way, apologies for treating deaths from a numerical perspective versus an emotional one, but that’s really kind of the point. It’s too easy to get emotional about this topic and lose perspective. So when you hear something like “the mortality rate in the United States is 5.9%, which is over FIFTY TIMES HIGHER than the flu!!!”, remember that you are listening to someone that hasn’t done their homework.

We’ll look at some global data that strains credibility in COVID-19 Myth #3.

Ralph Smith

Read COVID-19 Myth #1.

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