There is much talk of the fatality rate of the COVID19 disease. But what is a fatality rate, and what does the number really tell us? Most of us never consider the fact that the term may mean more than one thing – or, put another way, that there are more than one thing that it can mean. In this paper, I will distinguish three kinds of fatality rates.
First kind of fatality rate:
By fatality rate is usually meant the number of fatalities compared to the number of the whole population. It is said that, in the case of COVID19, it is much lower than what was expected. This is a useful number, in that it tells me what the risk of dying from the disease is, simply considered: whether I should test positive for the disease or not, whether I am exposed to the virus or not, and whether I develop an asymptomatic case or not.
And it is subject to this limitation: its accuracy is compromised by the fact that the true way to calculate the overall death rate is to divide the final number of fatalities by the final number of symptomatic cases — that is, those who get sick from the coronavirus. Obviously, we cannot do that yet because we do not have the data. Any number we get is therefore provisional at best. If we use the numbers we have now, this method yields a ratio of .017 or 1.7 % for the US and 6.2% for the world (as of March 28).
Nevertheless, it has some value because it gives us a rough idea of how contagious the disease is, in combination with its lethality. But no matter what disease we are considering, it is always a low number, a small percentage; and so can mislead us into thinking that the disease caused by the virus is not particularly dangerous. I suspect that this is the fatality rate that is presented to the public for that very reason – to avoid or mitigate the panic that might be caused if another kind of fatality rate were to be used.
Second kind of fatality rate:
We might also want to know what our chances of dying are if we test positive for the virus, and are considered an “active case”. People who have tested positive will want to know what they can expect. To find this number, the best we can do is to compare the number of coronavirus-caused fatalities to the number of active cases. This will be a much larger percentage than the death rate for the general population; as the number of active cases is always a small proportion of the whole population.
But the number of “active cases” is a very imprecise number, with a very wide margin for error: first, because to test positive for the virus is not the same thing as it is to contract the disease; second, because there are many false positives and false negatives, and there are many “asymptomatic” cases among those tested; and third, because so few people have even been tested. It is therefore almost a meaningless number – a mere guess.
Third kind of fatality rate:
When we consider the question, “How deadly is the COVID19 disease?”, and not “What are my chances, considered as a member of the whole population, of dying from it?” or “What are my chances if I test positive for the virus?” we will need a different mode of calculation which tells us what our chances of dying are if we get the disease. Since we want to put a number on it, we have to work from the data that we have. Fortunately, we have more reliable numbers for this than for the other two kinds of fatality rates. Admittedly, they are not final numbers, so that, as in the other two kinds, we will only able to get a provisional number. However, both of the figures being compared are actual and definitive numbers; since deaths and recoveries are objective and measurable, and the amounts are free from speculation and wide margins of error.
The first question is how many people die from the virus, as compared to the number who get sick, but recover. Many of the well-known charts online, though not all, give both numbers. Here is a real-world example, according to the Bing tracker website:
As of March 28, in the US, 2,465 people who have had the disease have recovered; while there are 1,706 who have died from it. That’s 1.44 recoveries for each death. Put another way, for every 100 people who have recovered, 69 have died. A sobering statistic, don’t you think?
The ratio for the global cases is better – 132,440 recovered versus 26,909 fatalities. That works out to 4.92 recoveries for each fatality or 20 deaths for each 100 recoveries. But since China is suspected of under-reporting deaths and inflating the number of recoveries by as much as 40 times! these numbers may be significantly inaccurate. China claims to have had 74,971 recoveries versus 3,295 deaths. That’s 2,280 recoveries for each death, or only 4.4 deaths for each 100 who recover. A bad enough figure; but I for one don’t believe it. For this reason, the true global ratio is probably nearer to that of the US.
To get the percentage of deaths for the number of people who have contracted the disease, we must first know how many cases of sick people have already been resolved; either by the patient’s recovery or his death. So we simply add together the fatalities and the recoveries. Using the same actual figures, we get: 2,465 recoveries plus 1,706 deaths. That gives us a total of resolved cases – 4,171. 1706 divided by 4171 = .409, which is 41%. 41% of the people in the U.S. who have contracted the disease have died.
That indicates an extremely high lethality.
This approach to determining the deadliness of the disease is not perfect. It is an estimate, and as I said, it is provisional. Improved care will doubtless lower the numbers. It also fails to take into account the variable risks of the various groups. This could be worked out in detail; but that is outside the scope of this essay. But it is accurate enough, I submit to you, to give us a fuller picture than the one propagated by the media.
So, is the COVID19 disease deadly? Cherish no illusions. Don’t trust the propagandists, or the governmental bodies that want to avoid causing a panic. Judge for yourself. YOU DO NOT WANT TO GET THIS DISEASE.
Howard Douglas King
March 28, Year of our Lord 2020