I’ve been tracking the coronavirus statistics compiled by The Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University for the past three weeks. As of April 7 the CSSE has reported that there are 1,359,398 known cases worldwide resulting in 75,945 deaths. Of those, 289,109 cases have recovered although it would appear that recovery statistics lag behind.
Worldwide, over the past three weeks the number of confirmed cases has grown by over a million, and the number of deaths has grown from about 6,500 to 75,000. But the rate of increase has declined dramatically in the past week. From March 23 to March 30 the number of reported cases jumped by 95% but in the last week the rate of increase was 65%. In the same two weeks the number of deaths continued to grow, but at a slower pace. From March 23 to March 30 the number of deaths increased by 108% but in the past week the death rate increased by 88%.
It is difficult to draw conclusions from the worldwide numbers since not only do different countries have different reporting standards, but also some may even be suppressing information. It is hard to believe that the number of cases and deaths in China leveled off so rapidly a few weeks ago.
However, the figures in the USA are also, despite alarmist headlines, somewhat hopeful. In the past three weeks the number of reported cases has grown from about 6,500 to 368,000, and the number of deaths has grown from about 500 to 10,937. However, from March 18 to March 24 the number of confirmed cases increased by 615%, and deaths by 958%. From March 25 to March 31 confirmed cases increased by 198% and deaths by 304%. From April 1 to April 7 the number of cases increased by 94% and the death rate by 169%. While the numbers are obviously growing, the rate of increase is slowing.
Even though the number of deaths in the USA as of the morning of this writing is 14,797, we hear predictions that the eventual number of deaths in the USA will be anywhere from 100,000 to 1.2 million before the epidemic is over. What are these predictions based on?
A couple of weeks ago, an alarming banner headline in my local newspaper reported that there were 6,800 people in Connecticut infected with the virus despite the fact that at the time there were only 68 tested positive in the state. A medical official with the State of Connecticut explained that although there was no way to estimate the effect of the coronavirus as yet, past experience with the flu would indicate that you must multiply by 100 the number of reported cases to get the true extent of the epidemic. In other words, 68 actual cases mean that at least 6,800 people have been infected.
However, a couple of weeks later the same paper reported that two Yale researchers projected that the number of reported cases should only be multiplied by three to get an accurate estimate of the extent of the virus contagion. These researchers admitted that there were a number of variables and unknown factors that might cause them to revise their projections.
The gap between these two estimates is huge and that is why we should be very careful when reading alarming headlines either in print or online. I prefer to look at what has actually happened and see what conclusions can be drawn from what we actually have experienced.
It is still too early to tell, but it could be that the curve is flattening due to the widely practiced social distancing measures. Some also believe that as the days grow longer in the spring the ultraviolet light of the sun plays a significant role. It replenishes the Vitamin D in our bodies, an important element in a strong immune system.
Also, it is important to note that as of April 8, 400,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported in the USA. [That number was 501,680 on April 11.] Of these cases, 12,857 or 3.2% have died. Of these, the great majority of the fatalities were elderly with existing medical problems like hypertension and diabetes. But what about the remaining 96.8 percent? Recovery statistics lag behind for various reasons but even if we double the death rate, the great majority of those infected will survive, and even develop immunity.
Finally, it is interesting to compare the statistics of the USA with other countries. Both the United Kingdom and Italy also show a flattening curve, but as of April 8, there have been 55,987 cases in the UK resulting in 6,157 deaths, a death rate of 11%. In Italy, there have been 135,586 cases (although some claim the Italians are not fully reporting) with 17,127 deaths, a death rate of 12.65%. Even though the USA now has the largest number of reported cases in the world, the number of those cases resulting in death (3.7% as of April 11) is significantly lower.
So far, these statistics seem to indicate that the USA health care system is doing a very good job of dealing with the crisis. Hopefully, when things calm down, studies will explain the disparities in the results. These studies might also help to put the whole pandemic into perspective. The CDC has reported that last year in the USA there were anywhere between 35 million to 50 million cases of the flu, resulting in 500,000 to 600,000 hospitalizations, and 38,000 deaths [about 0.1%].
Francis P. DeStefano, Ph.D., of Fairfield, is a writer, lecturer, historian and retired financial planner.