Death rates during a pandemic can be misleading

David King

I am a retired physician living in the Village of Fenney.

The 2 percent published death rate for the COVID-19 virus may end up being misleadingly low and is calculated differently than the .1 percent published death rate is calculated for INFLUENZA.  This is because calculating death rates AFTER a pandemic is OVER when you hopefully know the outcome of each case (i.e. death versus survival) is much easier than calculating death rates DURING an ongoing pandemic when the majority of cases have not yet died or recovered so you don’t yet have a true picture of the final OUTCOME of each case. 

For instance, in the 2017-2018 flu season, there were 45 million flu cases and 61,000 flu deaths.  Dividing 61,000 by 45 million is 0.001355, which is a death rate of ≈ 0.1 percent. So the death rate for influenza during past flu seasons is calculated by dividing the number of influenza deaths by the total number of COMPLETED influenza cases (the number of those who DIED plus the number of those who RECOVERED). 

But the COVID-19 death rates are calculated differently based upon the total deaths divided by the total number of cases (INCLUDING those who are STILL ALIVE and STILL SICK with COVID-19).  Mathematically, this much LARGER denominator will always result in a lower death rate. 

A better way of calculating death rates might be to divide the total deaths by the total COMPLETED cases (like they do for influenza, after the flu season is over). But the only way to do that is to divide the number of deaths by the sum of the number of deaths plus the number of those who have recovered.  The WORLDOMETER Internet site has done this for you.

If you go to the WORLDOMETER internet site (see below) on 4-1-2020, the total COMPLETED cases (where the final outcome was known) revealed ≈ 250,000 COMPLETED cases, out of which ≈ 200,000 people RECOVERED and ≈ 50,000 people DIED.  50,000 dead divided by 250,000 total CLOSED cases (where you already KNOW the final outcome) is a 20 percent death rate.  This 20 percent death rate is obviously a much higher than the 2% published death rate for COVID-19 infections.  Which death rate is more likely to be correct will only be discovered AFTER the pandemic is finally over.  Hopefully, the true death rate will be closer to the 2 percent figure than the 20 percent figure.

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

Summing up, in my opinion, calculating death rates DURING an actual ongoing pandemic is problematic and can be misleading, and therefore the most accurate death rates can only be calculated AFTER a pandemic is OVER when you can finally divide the total number of deaths by the total number of COMPLETED cases where the final outcome is known (i.e. those who DIED plus those who SURVIVED).   

David King is a resident of the Village of Fenney.

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