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Why the low coronavirus death rate isn’t the good news you think it is

  • Friday’s coronavirus update represented a continuation of the frightening patterns we’ve seen in recent days, including massive surges of new cases in states like Florida (which added more than 11,000 new cases to its overall total at week’s end).
  • White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci has a stern message of warning for people who aren’t taking the coronavirus seriously.
  • Some people are relying on the fact that the overall death rate from the virus in the US remains low, as a justification for not worrying too much about the virus.

Even if you’ve become a bit numb to the daily cadence of coronavirus pandemic headlines, this crisis has a way of sneaking up on you and doing its level best to shock you with something new. Case in point, just take a look at Friday’s new numbers out of Florida, one of a handful of states that have become the most frightening virus hotspots in the US.

Remember all those scary coronavirus headlines out of Italy earlier this year? As of right now, the country has reported 242,639 cases of the virus, according to the latest numbers from Johns Hopkins University. Well, Friday’s new numbers mean the state of Florida has beaten that total all by itself, never mind the rest of the US. The Sunshine State reported an additional 11,433 cases of the virus Friday, pushing the state’s cumulative total past 244,000. This is Exhibit A for why White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci has been pushing a new messaging theme in his public remarks this week — that the country, by and large, is not taking this virus seriously enough. And that we need to heed a specific warning.

One data point that people have been latching on to is the fact that the death rate in the US from the coronavirus, thankfully, has not risen commensurate with the surge in new cases. For a bit more context around what that means, the coronavirus has had around a 14% death rate in Italy to date, based on the 243,000 cases there and almost 35,000 deaths at the time of this writing.

In the US, the death rate is a little over 4%, based on 3.17 million coronavirus cases and 135,000 deaths. So, a lot better, right?

Not if you ask Dr. Fauci.

“It’s a false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death,” Fauci, who also serves as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a live stream press conference with US Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama. “There’s so many other things that are very dangerous and bad about this virus … By allowing yourself to get infected because of risky behavior, you are part of the propagation of the outbreak. Don’t get yourself into false complacency.”

coronavirus updateImage source: Braulio Jatar/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

Indeed, you can get a little more of a sense of what he means by that from reports like this one, which picks apart the popular notion you sometimes hear that, in addition to our death rate being low, most cases of the virus are mild and lead to recovery. According to The Hill, however, mild is probably the wrong word to use to describe instances where infected people don’t end up in the hospital or die. “Some COVID-19 patients are experiencing symptoms for long periods of time or complications that appear months after their diagnosis,” the publication explains. Indeed, as we noted on Wednesday, a recent study by researchers at University College London suggests that we could soon be facing a wave of coronavirus-related brain damage as evidence builds that COVID-19 can cause a wide variety of neurological issues, including inflammation, psychosis, and other potentially fatal complications.

“We are still knee-deep in the first wave of this,” Fauci said during a Facebook Live chat in recent days. “And I would say, this would not be considered a wave. It was a surge, or a resurgence of infections superimposed upon a baseline.” And we got to this point, Fauci continued, because “a series of circumstances associated with various states and cities trying to open up in the sense of getting back to some form of normality has led to a situation where we now have record-breaking cases.”

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.

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