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:
- SLATE-COVID-19 Isn’t As Deadly As We Think
- HumanProgress-The Misleading Arithmetic of COVID-19 Death Rates
- NPR-Why The Death Rate From Coronavirus Is Plunging In China
- ABC News-Early mortality rates for coronavirus are likely misleading, experts say. Children and adults have done extremely well in terms of recovery, say doctors.
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
- We needed a shutdown to bend the curve. Check.
- We needed that time to prepare our healthcare systems. Check.
- 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.
- We need more contact tracing. We have 30 million unemployed, so hiring contact tracers is not going to be hard to do.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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