Another in what has turned out to be a series of medical posts by Dr. Duane Rommel:
I read the headline in the National Review, “Why does the CDC think the Covid 19 fatality rate is so low and why won’t it tell anyone?” (https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/why-does-the-cdc-think-the-covid-19-fatality-rate-is-so-low-and-why-wont-it-tell-anyone/)
I’ve been asking myself the same question.
In April, early data was beginning to show the Covid virus that locked us in our homes was not as fearsome as first thought. The health experts that supported that view were lambasted. As the weeks pass, more data has arrived, supporting their claims. The latest news comes from the CDC, our government’s scientists; yet some don’t want to believe it. Or, worse, report it clearly to the public.
This report from the CDC, our nation’s health protection agency (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/planning-scenarios.html) was dated May 20. Their best understanding of Covid 19 shows that for those age 0-49 the Case Fatality Rate for people who have symptoms is .05%.
Please take time to learn this important statistic. This is one statistic that has meaning, in a never ending sea of confusing numbers broadcast in the media. The case fatality rate means the number of deaths from Covid 19 divided by the number of people who had symptoms of Covid 19 and tested positive.
The case fatality rate for age 50-64 year olds with symptoms is .2%. The case fatality rate for age 65+ year olds with symptoms is 1.3%. The CDC currently estimates that 35% of Covid 19 cases are without symptoms.
Even more important than the Case Fatality Rate is the Infection Fatality Rate. The Infection Fatality Rate is the number of deaths from Covid 19 divided by all the cases; symptomatic plus asymptomatic. The Infection Fatality Rate, according to the CDC’s research at this time, is:
Age 0 to 49: .032%
Age 50 to 64: .13%
Age 65 + : .85%
Earlier rates were being used by the government to set policies leading to the shutdown of our country. These numbers are a significant change from those used in March, which were estimated to be 3-5%. The case fatality rates clearly have been a major factor in government officials’ decision making. The higher the fatality rate, the more aggressive we needed to be to minimize the transfer of the virus from person to person. The less the fatality rate, the more we can resume activities which allow contact between people.
The current understanding of the Infection Fatality Rate by the CDC on May 20, is one tenth the original estimate. A typical infection fatality rate for the ‘seasonal flu’ is .1%. So Covid 19 is three times more deadly than the seasonal flu, not thirty times, as originally predicted.
This great news should be leading media headlines. Instead, each night news anchors mindlessly read the number of cases and deaths. Death counts have no meaning out of context. If a patient deciding on surgery with anesthesia asks, “How many people died from anesthesia last year?” The factual answer is “310.” This is not helpful; what they need to know is the death rate, not the number. The death rate is .001%, a reasonable risk to take.
Why did the CDC, a reliable group of physicians and scientists, change their estimates?
Scientist Brian Nosek, Ph.D., of the University of Virginia, comments:
“The pandemic has exposed the messiness of science. That’s how science always is, but we don’t usually see that truth exposed so vividly. We all want answers today, and science is not going to give them. Science is uncertainty. And the pace of uncertainty reduction in science is way slower that the pace of a pandemic.”
From the beginning of the pandemic, scientists have been clamoring for reliable data. New data and findings continue to pour in. The truth about Covid 19 is complex. These fatality numbers are the CDC’s new best estimates.
It’s better to understand science as a process. As the new knowledge about Covid-19 emerges, the recommendations by experts need to reflect this change. We cannot stay stuck in the March policies when we have a better understanding of reality. This means we should not be fearing the numbers of cases in most people under age 65. We should be treating this situation as we deal with our yearly flu epidemics. Open schools. Open camps. Open stores. Stop wiping all surfaces. Finally, figure out how to protect the elderly.
The greatest challenge for our government and health leaders will be to communicate, after months of fear, that this is a virus we can manage and survive. The CDC’s latest projections can’t be ignored.
The tornado that whisks Dorothy out of Kansas in the Wizard of Oz, and drops her house on the Wicked Witch of the East, terrifies the folk of Munchkin Land. The Munchkins are hiding in their homes. Glinda, the good witch, arrives and sings, “Come out, come out, wherever you are, and meet the young lady who fell from a star.”
We can come out now.