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In a rare piece of good news about Covid-19, a team of infectious disease experts calculates that the fatality rate in people who have symptoms of the disease caused by the new coronavirus is about 1.4%. Although that estimate applies specifically to Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak began, and is based on data from there, it offers a guide to the rest of the world, where many countries might see even lower death rates.

The new figure is significantly below earlier estimates of 2% or 3% and well below the death rate for China based on simply dividing deaths by cases, which yields almost 4%. While it is still higher than the average 0.1% death rate from seasonal flu, it raises hopes that the worst consequence of the coronavirus will be uncommon.

Cutting against that optimism is the expectation that, because no one was immune to the new virus, “the majority of the population will be infected” absent the quick arrival of a vaccine or drastic public health interventions such as closing public places and canceling public events, the scientists conclude in a paper submitted to a journal but not yet peer-reviewed.


The expectation that a “majority” of a population will become infected reflects a worst-case scenario about who encounters whom, something modelers call “homogeneous mixing.” But even the more realistic assumption that not everyone mixes with everyone else means that “at least a quarter to a half of the population will very likely become infected” absent social distancing measures or a vaccine, conclude Joseph Wu and Kathy Leung of the University of Hong Kong, leaders in the modeling of infectious diseases, and their colleagues.

The Covid-19 pandemic is sparking efforts to calculate how deadly this new disease is. One measure is called a case fatality rate. While the formula is simple, it’s difficult to get a precise answer.

The better news involves fatality rates. To calculate those, the researchers used data from Wuhan, especially the age distribution of 425 early cases and 41 early fatalities there.


The chance of someone with symptomatic Covid-19 dying varied by age, confirming other studies. For those aged 15 to 44, the fatality rate was 0.5%, though it might have been as low as 0.1% or as high as 1.3%. For people 45 to 64, the fatality rate was also 0.5%, with a possible low of 0.2% and a possible high of 1.1%. For those over 64, it was 2.7%, with a low and high estimate of 1.5% and 4.7%.

The chance of serious illness from coronavirus infection in younger people was so low, the scientists estimate a fatality rate of zero.

As physicians and researchers have seen since the start of the outbreak, many infected people never become sick. As few as 14% of people in Wuhan with early coronavirus infections were being detected, said epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, who led a study published on Monday in Science on undocumented coronavirus infections.

“I think there are many more than the [nearly] 70,000” confirmed Covid-19 cases in Hubei province, Shaman told reporters.

That means the “infection fatality rate” — deaths among people who have the virus but might or might not show disease symptoms — is even lower than Wu and his colleagues calculate.

Despite Wuhan’s heroic efforts to treat patients, the suddenness of the epidemic overwhelmed hospitals there, much as it has in northern Italy. In countries that got more advance warning and prepared better, especially if social distancing succeeds in “flattening the curve” enough to dampen what would otherwise be a tidal wave of Covid-19 cases, the death rate is likely to be lower still.

“Fatality risk estimates may not generalize to those outside of [Wuhan], especially during subsequent phases of the epidemic,” Wu and his colleagues write. “The increasing availability of newer, and potentially better, treatment modalities to more patients would presumably lead to fewer deaths.” That’s true even within China, they find: “To date, the death-to-case ratio in Wuhan has been consistently much higher than that among all the other mainland Chinese cities.”

Lest anyone be tempted to downplay the threat, the scientists caution that Covid-19 is on track to infect millions of people. If social distancing fails to dampen the number of cases at any one time, overwhelming health care systems, the death rate would be higher.

  • Maybe you should feed them with “regular food” instead. They don’t eat trash. They chose to eat those kind of food. And an edible food is never a trash. PERIOD.

  • I don’t know where to begin with how awful this “article” is….Ms. Begley and the “researchers” (and I use that term generously when it comes to most epidemiologists) probably don’t realize just how incompetent they truly are…

    I think the worst fear-mongering out there (the 2.2M deaths #) comes from the baseless assertion that 70% will be infected and that the mortality rate would remain at 1%.

    Both of those assumptions are ridiculous.

    There will not be 2.2 million deaths in the US, or 1.2, or 0.2

    I might be wrong….but I doubt it.

    • The N1H1 swine flu killed 12 million people in America. So, what makes you think this Virus couldn’t kill 2.2 million. They also said if the social distancing doesn’t work.

    • @Ervin, the swine flu killed a half million people world-wide, not 12 million people anywhere. We should fight any infection but we should not freak out and trump up the worst case scenarios for the horror narrative.

    • Wrong. The H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic in 2009 killed 12,469 (per the Centers for Disease Control [CDC]). CDC estimates that between 40.3 million and 89.3 million Americans were infected with H1N1. (CDC puts its point-estimate at 60.8 million.) Given 60.8 million were infects, the death rate (deaths/infections) would come to 0.021%, about five times *lower* than the usual toll from seasonal flu.

      How many people in the United States were infected without even knowing it? Answer: Tens of millions.

      The 1958 flu pandemic was much more harsh. Given 20% had been infected, the death rate would come to 0.32%.

      All that said, this article focuses on the ratio of deaths to “confirmed cases”. So, we can ask again: How many people have been infected without even knowing it? Millions? If so, the death rate may be very, very low.

  • “The patient who died worked as a substitute teacher in the Sacramento City Unified School District, the district said in a statement Monday. They were older than 70 years old and had underlying health issues, according to a news release from county public health officials.”

    It is written all over the money we print, “In God we trust”. My concern is that without actual verified scientific facts based on theories rather than immediate case studies based on hypothetical inference, is it possible the percentage of deaths estimated is incorrect and closer to the actual flu death, because realistically, no one can control or know that total number of actual people infected with the covid-19 virus at this time???
    If we don’t yet have a vaccine, and no solid scientific proof, what about believing that God can heal this new virus and strengthen our immune systems to fight it off? Just like during other much more deadly diseases, those who trusted in God were healed. Instead of trying to control everything when things are unknown, and putting a monopoly of power into the hands of governmental authority, where God given freedoms like life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are being systematically stripped away because of ever changing scientific hypotheses, let’s get on our knees and pray for revival and awakening in America that we don’t turn into a socialist country that gives away the God given freedoms our founding fathers fought so hard to give us.

  • Lots of speculation about what will happen and little hard statistical data based on experience thus far to indicate that it will. Death tolls from COVID-19 are still trailing well behind those for seasonal flu even over comparable periods of time. For example current flu season deaths in the US alone are now estimated by CDC at 22,000, that is up 2000 from the previous weeks surveillance report. This is far higher than the existing COVID-19 death toll for the entire world. Worldwide flu deaths run about 291,000 yearly on the low end which works out to about 24,250 per month, again, much higher than COVID-19 deaths over a similar period which works out to about 2000 more or less. COVID-19 deaths totals will certainly increase as will the death rate per given period of time but claims they will ever exceed or frankly even approach those of seasonal flu, appear spurious at best.

  • I don’t get why y’all think this IS just a little worse than the flu. The flu has a mortality rate of .1% globally compared to the 1% – 2% with covid 19, that’s 10 to 20 times worse at least! With our ICUs here in the states operating at 80 to almost full capacity at any given time. Im not feeding into the hype but while I believe we should stay calm, this is a very serious disease. Imagine the chaos when places here in the states start looking like italy.

    • Because it’s new and unknown and people fear the unknown. There was never this level of panic or even close to it over the 2008-2009 H1N1 flu pandemic which even by the lowest estimates killed far more than COVID-19 has yet and the reason why is simple: It was flu. Flu is common and despite killing large numbers of people with monotonous regularity it just doesn’t scare people very much.

    • Your estimation of SARS-COV2 fatalities is skewed because you are factoring a lower denominator in factoring total number of cases. You fail to mention that the global flu pandemic is 3-5 million cases. With vaccines and also the addition of treatments such as anti-virals for those with pre-existing conditions also skews the number of fatalities. To say that SARS-COV2 is 10-20x worse is not an accurate reflection of the fatality rates and also does not take into account the variables that Wuhan is ground zero and has the largest number of fatalities vs other countries. In addition, Wuhan has a population of 11 million and has a air pollution index average of 132. Unhealthy air pollution index number is between the 101-150 for sensitive people. Living in such constant air pollution is a variable that affects patients who become infected with SARS-COV2. All I am saying is ALL of the DATA needs to be analyzed and not left to simple “Divide # of Deaths by # of Infected. There are subcategories of Comorbidity that need to be evaluated in conjunction with # of deaths by age groups

    • @Steve, H1N1 was not nearly as contagious, and it was much easier to keep eyes on its spread and quarantine the sick, and it’s death rate was .02% You are correct that much of the “panic” over COVID-19 is a result of the “unknown,” but based on what we DO know at this point about the virus, it would be irresponsible NOT to take social distancing precautions BECAUSE if the middle or upper bounds of the hospitalization rate and death rate estimates turn out to be reality, and we DON’T mitigate the rapidity and spread of contagion, we will be looking at a MUCH higher death count than H1N1.

  • It is too early to have glimmer of hope. The virus has HIV and ebola mutations which means that in can stay in your system.

    I was told by someone today that there was a case in Wuhan where the patients system has to take medicine for what maybe forever because the virus stayed on his system.

    • There is no evidence of any similarity between COVID-19 and HIV or Ebola other than that they are all viruses. At this point you are just fear mongering and don’t even cite a source.

    • All viruses stay in the body forever. They can’t be killed or removed, a virus by nature can only be stopped from reproducing by antibodies produced organically or introduced esynthetically from a vaccine, the necessary step and the only option with any virus is to stop it from reproducing inside of the infected host cell.

  • You shouldn’t use Wuhan’s death rate as a reference. In the early stage the death rate was higher than 10%. It lower down because the goverment send 20,000 doctors from other province to support Wuhan and build 2 hospitals in 10 days. Don’t be optimistic.
    “I think there are many more than the [nearly] 70,000” confirmed Covid-19 cases in Hubei province” It is arrogant and prejudice. Many westerns don’t believe any words from China’s goverment and belittle any thing it did. There is 0 infected in other cities in Hubei for 1 week. People begin to go to restaurant and shopping !

  • The article says this: “a team of infectious disease experts calculates that the fatality rate in people who have symptoms of the disease caused by the new coronavirus is about 1.4%.”

    Ok, i notice the wording here emphasizes that 1.4% of people *who show symptoms* die. So the real mortality rate of this disease when it factors in those who DO have Covid-19 but do not show any symptoms makes the death rate of this disease far lower than 1.4%…

    Why are we not getting a estimate for the total mortality rate that includes those without symptoms included? It shows that this illness is far less deadly than what the media has led people to believe and it would help lower the panic that is going on.

    • Note also: she worked at the school in February, which likely means it was spreading in Sacramento schools at that time. Got to wonder how many cases there are in Sacramento now. Yikes.

    • Thats not whats being said above. Its saying children aren’t dieing of it. The fearmongering based off a biased sample set freaked the world. This disease when said and done will have a rate closer to a very very bad flu season

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