In the early days of the global coronavirus outbreak, skeptics in the U.S. argued that the outbreak wasn’t serious enough to warrant drastic measures here at home that were intended to slow or stop its spread.
“It’s just the flu,” was a common refrain. Some even said, “It’s no worse than the common cold.”
For weeks, those detractors quoted flu stats like scripture from the Bible, saying that 19,000 people had died from the flu this year (and then 22,000, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention upped its estimate for the 2019-2020 flu season), while only a handful had died from coronavirus.
Of course, the coronavirus was never “just the flu.” It might not be as bad as the worst-case scenarios projected (although it should be kept in mind that the worst-case scenarios were predicated on no social distancing being practiced), but it’s bad enough. Based on what we know from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, coronavirus probably has a death rate of about 1%. It might be slightly less than that, but probably not significantly so. And that makes it 10 times deadlier than the flu.
Consider this: We’re just 30 days into the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., and already the coronavirus has killed 14,500 people. That’s more than the flu kills in some especially mild seasons. And flu season lasts about six months, beginning in October and really ticking up in December. Coronavirus has killed 14,500 in one month.
This flu season, the CDC estimates that at least 24,000 Americans have died of flu complications (and at least 39 million have gotten sick — a death rate of 0.06%, if the low end of the CDC’s estimated range is correct). So that’s still significantly more than coronavirus. But, again, 24,000+ is the number of people who’ve died in the U.S. since the flu season began back in October. It took months for that number to accumulate. It’s taken just one month for coronavirus to claim 14,500 lives in the U.S.
Additionally, the coronavirus has claimed 14,500 lives despite some fairly drastic measures being put into place. All large gatherings in America have stopped. Schools are not in session, restaurants and bars have closed, churches have halted worship services, ball games and concerts have been canceled and theme parks are closed. Unless they’re going to work, or to the grocery store, most Americans are staying home. We can argue that people aren’t staying home enough, and that they’re not doing enough to stop the spread of coronavirus (and, certainly, there are a lot of people making that argument), but all you need to do to understand the impact of our social distancing practices is to look at the decline of America’s economic output. There’s no way to know how many infections the social distancing techniques have prevented, but it’s probably hundreds of thousands. There’s no way to know how many deaths have been prevented, but it’s probably thousands.
At some point in the days ahead, the number of coronavirus deaths will surpass the number of flu deaths … despite all that has been done to slow the spread of the virus. But if you aren’t convinced that the coronavirus is much more serious than the flu, consider this: When the first Americans began to die of coronavirus, the CDC estimated that at least 22,000 people had died of flu complications. Today, the CDC has bumped the low end of its flu death projection up to 24,000, while coronavirus has killed 14,500.
In other words, in the same amount of time it has taken the flu to kill an additional 2,000 people in the U.S., the coronavirus has killed 14,500.
There are plenty of those same skeptics from before who would argue that even a few tens of thousands of deaths doesn’t justify shutting down America’s economy. Those deaths, the ones that’ve been prevented, would’ve been acceptable collateral damage for keeping America’s economy humming, they argue.
And I’m not attempting to refute that argument … nor am I agreeing with it. But, as someone who made the flu comparisons himself when this thing first started to generate major headlines, I’m just saying that all of those comparisons were silly … and the numbers are now proving it, after just 30 days.