My Turn: Make America healthy again

Mik Muller, Greenfield Recorder. Published March 22, 2020

After reading Bob Bourke’s “Perspective on Corona Virus” letter on these pages on Friday, March 13, I thought I’d do a little research to provide a more accurate perspective. So, over the weekend I wrote a response letter and after three rewrites I decided to not send it because, surely by Monday, everyone will see the reality of this epidemic. But lo and behold, on Tuesday (happy St. Patty’s Day!), Rev. Phill Grant’s letter appeared, asking us what the big deal was, and why so much fear.

Corona Math

First, Mr. Bourke said we average 20,000 per year from flu, which he then compared to the 14 deaths from COVID-19, at the time of his writing.

But, it’s inaccurate to compare flu deaths with Corona deaths in that way. You need a common denominator to do it right. So, let’s do it right. Let’s use what the medical community calls the “Case Fatality Rate” (CFR), the percentage of people that die if infected, to determine how deadly the coronavirus actually is.

Let’s start with the actual annual flu numbers from the CDC:

“CDC estimates that influenza has resulted in between 9 million and 45 million illnesses, between 140,000 and 810,000 hospitalizations, and between 12,000 and 61,000 deaths annually since 2010.”

Doing the math, the annual flu gets a CFR of around 0.13 percent these days. So, if you say, for sake of argument, 20,000 people died from the annual flu this year, you need to realize that this was from a population of 15 million sick people.

Back to COVID-19. Globally, as of this writing, there have been 153,523 confirmed cases and 5,736 deaths, giving us a CFR of 3.7 percent

This means that, at the moment, COVID-19 is almost 30 times more deadly than the annual flu.

Numbers to fear

Those statistics would strike fear into anyone. And like the 1918 flu pandemic (which had a CFR of 10 percent), we have no immunity, nor do we have any shots to take. And we’re only now rolling out tests.

If the number of COVID-19 cases increases to the same level of infection as the annual flu in America, and up to 30 times as many people die of it compared to the annual flu, how many people may die? Simply multiply 20,000 x 30 and you get 600,000.

Six hundred thousand American deaths, if you allow the coronavirus to expand to the wider American population at current annual flu population levels of infection.

That’s 1918-level death numbers. That’s society-changing numbers. And that’s just from 15 million sick people. The highest annual flu numbers in the past decade were 45 million.

America strong

There’s nothing for it. We obviously need to come together as a country and understand that this is a real threat and calmly take appropriate, coordinated action.

We know that COVID-19, like all varieties of flu, is transmitted from person to person through hands or air drops or whatever. So, the best way to stop this thing in its tracks is to stay away from each other — a.k.a., “social distancing.” If we don’t allow it to spread, it will likely run its course and be over within a few weeks.

Some countries have completely shut down and ordered the population to stay home. Yes, that will take a major toll on their economies, but it’s a small price to pay, I’d say, when you compare it to the other outcome. Don’t mess with 3.7 percent CFR.

Stopping this virus in its tracks is the most important thing this country can do right now. Make America healthy again.

And, if we can get it on the ballot for this November, I vote for the White House reinstating the National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, and have it staffed by actual scientists who know science and can advise the president early on the next time this happens. Because it will. There’s a new virus every year. This is just the 2020 version.

If you have the time (and the stomach for it), try the website for some science-based statistics and sobering charts, specifically, the bar chart in the section “Case fatality rate of COVID-19 compared to other diseases” and the map below that.

Mik Muller lives in Greenfield and loves math and history.