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Recalculating the Death Rate from COVID-19

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Recalculating the Death Rate from COVID-19

Recalculating the Death Rate from COVID-19
April 20
17:31 2020

In an earlier commentary, I questioned the information we were receiving from the media regarding the scope of the COVID-19 outbreak – specifically the number of cases and the death rate.

I am not a statistician or an epidemiologist – but I can reason.

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At the time, the general death rate was widely reported to be in the neighborhood of 2.4 percent.  That was calculated by dividing the number of deaths by the number of cases.  It was also speculated in the hyperbolic media reports that there where potentially millions of cases that were unreported at the time.

To recognize the problem, you need to understand one simple fact.  A certain percentage of those unknown cases would still be dying.  The fact that they are not in the known case number would not have given them immunity from death.

At the time of my writing, there were about 100,000 cases —  with between 1500 to 2000 deaths.  Even that was a bit below the stated death rate.  If there were another one million cases out there, there should have been between 15 and 20 thousand deaths.  But there was nowhere near that number at the time.

This meant one of two things had to be true.  Either the death rate was considerably lower than reported OR there were not the number of unknown cases at the time as was speculated.

I raise this issue again because I have seen some reports that now recalculate the death rate to one percent or less –less than half of the reported 2.4 percent rate and less than one-third of the 3.4 percent rate published by the World Health Organization.

Yes, you can point to localized outbreaks (clusters) of COVID-19 that have higher rates – such as communities with a higher percentage of older and vulnerable people. And yes, the number of cases has risen as the virus spreads.  But that does not change the overall actual death rate.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a credible study that put the actual COVID-19 death rate at around one percent.  That brings it much closer to the death rate for various cases of flu that pass through the United States every year.

Couple this with the fact that the deaths attributable to COVID-19 appear to be over-reported (detailed in another previous commentary), it is legitimate to wonder if the United States – and the world – have not overreacted to the pandemic.  It is bad, for sure – but not as bad as predicted.  Not as bad as the justification for the unprecedented and extreme shut down of the American economy.

As COVID-19 passes into history, we will undoubtedly and appropriately study how we could have responded better – been better prepared.  And one facet of the COVID-19 postmortem should study whether we overreacted and did more damage and caused more suffering than was necessary.

So, there ‘tis.


About Author

Larry Horist

Larry Horist

Larry Horist is a conservative activist with an extensive background in economics, public policy and politics. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman, as well as the White House. He has testified as an expert witness before legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress, and lectured at major colleges and universities. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He can be reached at lph@thomasandjoyce.com.

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