Early mortality rates for coronavirus are likely misleading, experts say

It’s possible that COVID-19 isn’t as fatal as most people think. And stockpiling hand sanitizer and masks could hurt people who are truly at risk: the elderly and those with weak immune systems.

“Kids and adults have done extremely well in terms of recovery so far,” said Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency medicine doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “It’s so critical that we do not waste resources among the young and healthy and that we really focus on the areas where this might really get out of control.”

Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, says our understanding of the disease is still developing and the statistics are preliminary.

“They’re all estimates,” he said. “What are you counting as a case in your particular country? … That case definition has varied a lot.”

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While some studies peg the death rate to 3.4%, experts expect to see this rate decrease as the health care system starts finding milder cases.

“What I was able to find by looking at a few other data sources, rather than just the big flashy numbers, was that there’s actually a lot of reason to be reassured that the numbers are a lot lower,” said Faust.

Because only the sickest people are showing up at hospitals, this group is likely over-represented among the full population of people who have COVID-19, according to Faust. Most COVID-19 cases are mild, and many individuals will never even see a health care provider to be tested.

“If you get to people over 70, we’re going to have much higher fatality rates. And I’ve seen some estimates of even as high as 10%, which would be huge for people 70 and older,” said Schaffner. “But remember, those people accumulate a whole lot of underlying illnesses, which adds to their risk. They have heart disease, diabetes, lung disease … Some of these people, particularly from China, have lived in polluted environments their whole life. Some of the men, especially, have been lifetime smokers. So they are at very increased risk of severe disease.”

Right now, death rate estimates vary per country. The best estimates for South Korea put COVID-19’s fatality rate at 0.6%, and a recent study released on the death the rate in China — but outside hard-hit Wuhan — hovered just above that, at 0.7%.

Source: ABC News