Why Haven’t You Seen This COVID-19 Headline?

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covid fatality rate

There has been amazing uplifting news that has been covered in the press this past week, but you wouldn’t know it. In fact, it’s the biggest news of the whole pandemic so far, yet it’s been largely hidden from the average American. Today I’ll explore why.

First the News

Given the most recent data from antibody testing, you have a much higher chance of dying in a car crash in your lifetime than you do from COVID-19. That’s HUGE news that should have been covered as “BREAKING” by every media outlet in the country. Why? The average American is scared to death of dying from COVID-19 and if they knew that they were taking more risk driving their car than their risk of death from this disease, this news would go a long way towards reducing Pandemic related suicides, drug abuse, alcoholism, mental health problems, and general anxiety.

COVID by the Numbers

What are the real chances of dying after contracting COVID-19? Based on what we know right now based on both New York and California fatality data, about 1 in 200 to 1 in 500. Let’s put that in perspective:

  • That’s more lethal than the flu, which has a fatality rate of about 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 2,000
  • However, you have a greater chance of dying in a car crash in your life as that risk is about 1 in 106
  • Your lifetime odds of dying from a fall are 1 in 111
  • Your lifetime odds of dying from a narcotic overdose are 1 in 98

Why Doesn’t Every American Know This?

If we want to understand why every American doesn’t know that COVID is less lethal than a lifetime of driving, then we need to look no further than the mainstream media. However, before I do that, I want to point out and applaud a few science journalists who have been reporting this all along:

However, looking at a recent Washington Post piece is a great example of the reason why the Average American is terrified. Let’s dig in.

The Fear Mongering

This news piece starts with the same idea that I discussed above, that antibody tests show that the absolute number infected with coronavirus is at least 50-85 times higher than anyone thought (1). That’s a good thing, right? That lowers the fatality rate dramatically, because we have all of these asymptomatic people out there who had the virus, got over it, and never knew it.  The WaPo admits that here: “Higher infection rates mean lower lethality risk on average.” That’s of course where this story should go, as this is good news that will help patients access the real risk. It would have also been a good idea to tell the American people of how these known lowered COVID-19 risks compare to common risks they take every day.

However, what’s the next sentence in the Wa Po article?  “But the corollary is that this is a very contagious disease capable of being spread by people who are asymptomatic — a challenge for communities hoping to end their shutdowns.” Huh? Pretty much all respiratory viruses, in part, are spread by asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic people coming in contact with people who aren’t sick. In fact, the ability of this virus to spread (an R0 of 2-3) is identical to many other common respiratory viruses (2).  So the idea that this virus spreads differently the other viruses we know is silly.

The WaPo article then mentions that Governor Cuomo discussed a fatality rate of 0.5% in New York. However, it then downplays the Standford study showing a death rate of 0.1-0.2%. Why would a NY Governor be any more credible than epidemiology experts at Stanford?

Basically, it then spends the rest of the article getting quotes from university talking heads to whip up fear. It is clearly creating a narrative.

Fitting the Data to the Narrative

The mainstream media narrative is clear and it’s that everyone should be VERY afraid of this VERY lethal virus. However, when fatality data like that out of New York or California doesn’t fit that narrative, then the story needs to be molded into the narrative. Why is the narrative important?

The main reason that the fear narrative is critical is simple-selling eyeballs to advertisers. For the past two months, we have all been glued to our web browsers and spending MUCH MORE time reading news sites. If we all knew that this virus was less likely to kill us than our cars, then mainstream media revenues fall back to earth. I hate to say it, but it’s just that simple.

Understanding Relative Risks

If you’re not a doctor or a healthcare provider who discusses risk all day with patients, it may be hard to understand. As an example, every surgical or injection procedure has risks. Risks of infection, nerve damage, paralysis, a bad outcome, or even death. If I were to spend an hour with each patient going over in painful detail every possible risk and awful outcome, many would never leave their home let alone pursue a procedure that is very likely to help them avoid other risks. Hence, the discussion of relative risks is critical. For example, you have a risk of 2-5 in 100 of a serious complication with low back fusion surgery, but if you go with the injection that risk falls to 1-5 in 1,000. Or, it’s more likely that you will get killed driving to the hospital than by this procedure.

What I Believe Based on the Data I Have Reviewed

  1. We needed a shutdown to bend the curve. Check.
  2. We needed that time to prepare our healthcare systems. Check.
  3. We needed that time to ramp up testing. If you’ve been following the testing numbers every day, the US is adding about 2,000 tests per million per day. That means that in 1-2 weeks, we will have tested more per capita than any other large nation. So check.
  4. We need more contact tracing. We have 30 million unemployed, so hiring contact tracers is not going to be hard to do.
  5. We need to inform the public en masse of the real fatality rate of this virus. That means DE-ESCALATING the mainstream media fear machine.
  6. We need to smartly reopen our economy sooner rather than later. I don’t care what type of business you’re in or if you’re a business owner or an employee, with 30 million unemployed heading towards 40 million by next week, you will be hit by this economic tsunami.
  7. We need to aggressively police that reopening to ensure that people are playing by the rules. I know to some of my more conservative readers that may sound dystopian, but it’s the only way this gets done.

The upshot? It’s time to level with the American public. We have a bad bug, but one that is not the killer originally described by the mainstream media. We need to make sure the public understands the real relative risk of COVID-19 death and puts that in perspective with other risks they take every day.



(1) The Washington Post. Antibody tests support what’s been obvious: Covid-19 is much more lethal than the flu. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/antibody-tests-support-whats-been-obvious-covid-19-is-much-more-lethal-than-flu/2020/04/28/2fc215d8-87f7-11ea-ac8a-fe9b8088e101_story.html Accessed 4/30/20.

(2) Reis J, Shaman J. Simulation of four respiratory viruses and inference of epidemiological parameters. Infect Dis Model. 2018;3:23‐34. Published 2018 Mar 19. doi:10.1016/j.idm.2018.03.006

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28 thoughts on “Why Haven’t You Seen This COVID-19 Headline?

  1. Sergeant Skate

    This makes so much sense
    Being marginally part of the risk group it would benefit me to see demographic data in excruciating detail ie
    How old
    How obese BMI
    Is hypertension controlled
    Is hyper cholesterol controlled
    Sedentary or active

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Will try to review what we know in a future blog…

  2. Ken

    It’s interesting how individuals play with Statistics. It’s problematic to compare the rate of dying from catching a virus during a pandemic with the Rate of dying from some other issue ‘in a lifetime’.
    In addition you haven’t stated a number of points.
    If we need people to accept a shut down how is it achieved if you constantly tell people the risks are low?
    Are you suggesting that people will react to being told ‘it is a good idea not to shake hands during this pandemic’ as readily as ‘you may die if you shake hands during this pandemic’? Perhaps UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson can answer that one. Fear does seem to concentrate the mind.
    How do you propose to have told people it doesn’t matter that an ADDITIONAL figure of tens of thousands of New Yorkers will die in a matter of weeks if dramatic action isn’t taken?
    Can you explain why so many governments around the world are taking notice of the risks yet you are suggesting the risks are overstated?
    Do you think there might be a link between some leaders playing down the risks and the possible incitement of people to invade a municipal building carrying firearms? How many of those protesters did you see taking social distancing seriously?
    The WHO has repeatedly said that it will be more difficult to come out of the lockdown than going in. Will it be made more difficult by telling people that the risks are low at a time when it is even more necessary for people to take precautions as they come out of their homes and mix with other people.

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Ken, I clearly stated the stats comparison, notice that I said a lifetime of driving. On your questions, here goes:

      1. Until we knew the actual death rate, placing the fear of God into people was fine, although many science journalists got this right up front, see my links.
      2. Now that we know that the fatality rates are MUCH LOWER than WHO initially reported (they had them pegged as high as 7% which was always going to be incorrect), it’s time to begin re-educating Americans.
      3. On governments, that’s politics, not medicine nor science. The two rarely mix well.
      4. This is not a political game for me. There is plenty of blame to go around. Neither the Dems nor the Republicans got much right here. In fact, the only countries that did well were those with many prior SARS experiences like Taiwan or S. Korea. The Dems over-reported the risks and Repubs downplayed them. If you look at the countries that got it very right, both got it wrong at least twice before figuring it out, so frankly I don’t place blame on any specific party or leader. This was our first rodeo in a century.

  3. George Haeh

    Yes, the lifetime risks of dying in a car crash, fall or drug overdose are each about 0.01, but the annual risk is lifetime divided by average lifespan (assume 75) = about 0.00013.

    Covid19 mortality over the last quarter is at best 1/500 = 0.002 in those exposed; so, might become 4/500 annually = 0.008 if pandemic progresses to endemic — yielding some twenty times the combined car+fall+overdose fatality rate of 0.00039.

    If Covid19 vanishes after this quarter, the fatality rate comparison would be 0.0001 c+f+o to 0.002 Covid19.

    In either interval Covid19 is twenty times more deadly.

    Right now this is a bit of an apples and oranges comparison as the exposed population remains a subset of the total population. But subsequent waves could bring that ratio closer to unity.

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      George, the purpose is to place the risks into terms a patient can understand. So using the existing Stanford data (three weeks after it was collected to adjust for deaths), the mortality risk was about 0.15%. That’s far less than the risk of dying in a car crash in a lifetime, which is something patients can understand. You have switched what I said to calculate an annual risk, which also creates an unknowable variable on the other end of the comparison (COVID which you guestimated), so again, apples to oranges.
      COVID mortality is not additive as 1 in 500 is just that, the risk of dying if you infect 500 people. The rate doesn’t change by adding more people over time or through the year. You still have 1 in 500 people dying based on the biology of the disease.

  4. sam

    The Nobel prize-winning scientist, who says he is not of the system/establishment, he works freely, and hence his opinion is not influenced by special interests, shares the result of his investigation: “This virus is not natural, it is manipulated. There’s a part which is obviously the classic virus, and there’s another mainly coming from the bat, but that part has added sequences, particularly from HIV – the AIDS virus. It’s a professional job, it’s a job of molecular biologists, it’s a very meticulous job, clockwork of sequences. My job is to expose the facts. I don’t know who did it.”

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Yes, I saw that, interesting stuff… I guess we will ultimately find out what happened.

  5. George Haeh

    Without Taiwan style control preventing new infections, a 1/500 mortality rate out of 300,000,000 will produce some 600,000 deaths in the US once everybody has been infected over the next few years unless an effective treatment and/or vaccine becomes available.

    SARS was bottled up in the first wave. The likelihood of subsequent waves like the 1918 influenza looks higher with this variant. We do not yet know whether Covid19 will burn through the entire population and self extinguish through acquired immunity as in 1918-20, or be supressed, or return as variants like seasonal flu.

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      The problem is that social distancing does little to reduce the total deaths, it just pushes them out. Your numbers also don’t count herd immunity which is when about 60% have been infected. In addition, we have many clinical trials ongoing. So hopefully total deaths will be fewer.

  6. Don Speaekman

    Chris, great article. I agree with you 100%. All the media wants to do is scare people. It is hurting this country in many ways by being so negative! Thanks for your great articles. God Bless

  7. ScottV

    To instill caution and concern in people is one thing, terrorizing people with fear mongering is another. When I took driver’s ed it was basically sit and watch horrific movies of car crashes. Some in the class because violently sick, some refused to drive and others were so terrified behind the wheel they could barely leave the parking lot. A more sensible approach was achieved with common sense and logic. News media sells ads and spins things to push agendas, been a long time since we had reporters relaying the facts and letting we the people decide how we feel about them.

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      It’s funny that you mention that as I was just thinking yesterday of the “Pumpkin Head” video we got shown in driver’s ed. If we put that video and many others like it on mainstream media 5 times a day graphically showing the horrific and disfiguring things that happen when people die in car crashes, we could terrorize many people into not driving.

  8. Sergeant Skate

    The press who jumps on every negative detail has not yet been able to find one person globally to be reinfected but continues to tout the WHO point that we don’t know if we can be reinfected which fuels the fire of extending the lockdown.

  9. Randy

    In an earlier post you mentioned postponing elective surgery. What’s your thoughts on mole removal and biopsy?

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Likely not an issue. They think the problem with big surgeries is that they they knock you back severely. Small procedures like cosmetic likely just fine.

  10. Edith Johnson

    Living above 7000′ requires health lungs. My feeling is “why risk lung damage?”.
    Don’t mind staying away from mass population.
    Hopefully, young people return to work with appreciation of having employment. More important, understanding on deeper level exactly what teachers go through in their endeavors to educate children in todays fast pace society.

  11. Dave

    I’ve been around long enough to know that the Washington Post, and other mainstream media outlets such as the Associated Press and New York Times, are simply not credible sources of information. Too much bias and not enough fact reporting.

  12. Dr Frank

    The Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos (under Nash Holdings) and shares in Amazon have risen to record high as people are stucked in lockdown.

  13. Sharon

    Overall I agree with your conclusions but you entirely omit the fact that we are not self distancing just for ourselves personally. We are helping lesson the risk of COVID-19 in our most vulnerable populations. Nursing homes, prisons, meat packing plants and health care facilities have become horrific hotspots for infection that we must better address. As we ‘smartly’ reopen our economy workers that use public transportation will be at greater risk as well as those that work in close contact with each other or customers.

    I agree with Ken that your comparison of the fatality rate of COVID-19 to the lifetime risk of an automobile accident is extremely misleading. I disagree with your assertion that the press is instilling fear to sell advertising. Our knowledge of this pandemic is rapidly changing and I count on the press to keep me informed.

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      I have no issue with the idea that we need to continue to social distance. Yes, public transportation systems are now a huge problem. Explaining the risks to patients can really only be done by comparing the risk of the disease or complication (or in this case death from COVID) versus risks they know.

  14. Sharon

    Then compare it to the risk of an automobile accident resulting in death over the next year, not a lifetime. Or the risk of death from smoking, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, again over the next year not a lifetime. Otherwise it is a misleading comparison. I am considered a high risk due to my age of 66 but am otherwise very healthy and my level of concern about dying of COVID-19 has dropped considerably as I have learned more. But I have a husband, friends and family with other health issues. I will continue to social distance to protect them as well as myself from not only death but other long term consequences of this disease.

    Also I want to add to my comment about the media that it does matter WHO you are listening to. I try to watch Governors Cuomo and Pritzker as I find their information and delivery thoughtful, calm and based on science. I only watch Trump to catch what Doctors Fauci and Birx have to say although it is hard to see them subjected to the president’s misinformation.

    I am scheduled for a Regenexx shoulder procedure later this month and have been following the research you have posted on regenerative medicine closely. The quality of this information is the reason I have decided to proceed with this expensive and still controversial treatment.

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Sharon, in consents, we usually try to offer patients multiple risk comparisons. The goal is to get them to be easily understandable. Car driving is an easy one as is dying from other accidental but preventable events like falling. We can certainly use an annualized risk for car driving, but as I wrote before, comparing that to an annualized risk of COVID involves much guesswork. Heart disease can be a tough one as the risk of dying from heart disease is very high. Diabetes a bit less, but with a high percentage of Americans having type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, the risk of death due to either or compounded by either is very high. Hence, accidental deaths causes are usually better comparisons. I wish you the best with your shoulder! Stay safe!

  15. katrina lewis

    EXCELLENT ARTICLE CHRIS, just like so many of the well thought out and wonderful articles you have published over the years exposing some of the stem cell scams. I believe doctors need to come together and stick with science, just as the Swedish epidemiologists did when they said they followed evidence based science i.e handwashing, some social distancing, and did not lock down the country but advised high risk people to be more careful. Since when do we forget basic biology, our own voices, biomes and the incredible complexity of our immune systems ( I have a research B.Sc in Immunology and Physiological Chemisty as well as my MD) and basic math?? We should be ashamed of ourselves. This is clearly a Big Pharma/Gates agenda to push vaccines on everyone, yet influenza vaccines are not 100% effective and H1N1 vaccine was a disaster. The kind of censorship occurring on Facebook and Youtube should give us all pause as well, the vitriol leveled at those 2 physicians in California was terrible and then they were banned just for speaking their simple truth, and the Stanford study ( usually a bastion of good science) was torn apart. What is going on here, and why is there no discussion by Fauci about herd immunity, and other options other than vaccines? He is pushing Remdesivir which he knows will fail ( improves recovery b y 2 days in 31% is a joke, just like opioid manufacturers being allowed to push their drugs with FDA saying a 30% response rate in terms of pain was adequate! Yet a drug like hydroxychloroquine around for decades with a good safety record and numerous anecdotal reports and case studies showing efficacy, is tossed aside because “there are no double blind placebo controlled studies”. As we all know those kind of studies are not always possible and yet vaccines will be pushed without any such studies and indemnity for the manufacturers. Fauci pushed an anti HIV drug years ago in the 80s the same way which failed, and how many died because he pushed that drug over others. I am pleading for physicians of all persuasions, put silly politics aside and just be scientists and patient advocates and start asking hard questions. We should all start coming together, as physicians should have done a long time ago when government agencies started taking away our rights and say and insurance companies started preventing us from doing what was right and the best for our patients.

  16. Jim Miles

    I just received your blog today, but I would like to make a point. You simply cannot make a simple, definitive statement about the risk of death from cause A or cause B for the entire population of ________you fill in the blank.

    Example one. Me and other old people. I am 82 years old, have been driving since I was 16 and it hasn’t killed me yet. If I continue to practice my safe driving routines, the odds are extremely low that I will a death by vehicle statistic. But, if I make my every other week trip to buy food tomorrow and I take all the possible precautions but am unknowingly exposed to the virus, I’ll be dead in a week or two. The odds of that happening are extremely high. I have a fear this will happen because there are too many variables over which I have no control.

    Example two. My wife and others with several respiratory conditions. She does not drive and rarely rides with me and never with anyone else. Odds of death by vehicle very close to zero. She does have to be physically present for some doctor’s appointments. Where are a lot of people who might have the virus? Doctor’s offices. Odds of death by virus, very much higher than death by vehicle. I fear for her safety until a vaccine is developed.

    I have a fear that every doctor, nurse, first responders, police and care givers in nursing homes will die from the virus and not by vehicle. Your generalization statements are not valid and the statistics are meaningless.

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Jim, this is NOT ebola, which has a mortality rate of about 6 in 10. Meaning even at 82, your chance of dying from contracting this disease isn’t even 1 in 10 and possibly 1 in 50-100. Statistics never work in reverse, they can only predict the likelihood of a future event. For example, it’s not appropriate to say that, “I just parked next to a car with license plate number XYR-423, what are the odds against that?” Meaning, after the event has happened statistics don’t describe the odds. In the same way, the fact that you haven’t died in a car crash could mean you’re a safe driver or lucky or both. Most of us won’t die in a car crash ever. Hence, an individual not having died in a car crash is great but doesn’t say much about the risk of 1,000 people dying in a car crash over their lives.

  17. Lisa S

    Addressing risk/reward of shelter in place, I’d like to hear your opinions on the risk of overuse of anti bacterial products. Many (admittedly my family included as both my husband and son are essential service providers) have been obsessively washing our hands, as advised. Are we now more vulnerable to other viruses when venturing out in public?

    1. Chris Centeno, MD Post author

      Lisa, you bring up a very valid point. We know from other studies that the use of antibacterial soap has caused many sick kids because they are no longer get exposed to the myriad of pathogens that are required to build a healthy immune system. So are we making things worse or better by sheltering people who are low risk from this virus? I think Sweeden’s experiment is critical to watch in that regard! So should we be only sheltering the old or high risk?

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