Understanding the Coronavirus through facts, not fears.
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) burst upon the world scene seemingly out of the blue in late 2019 and tore through our unsuspecting planet as fast as a midwestern tornado.
One of the first concerns by scientists regarding the behavior of the COVID-19 virus was its case fatality rate or CFR rate. Scientists arrive at this somewhat controversial measurement by taking the total number of deaths and dividing it by the total number of documented cases. One can immediately see the difficulties the scientific community has trying to give an accurate CFR rate to an ongoing and continually developing pandemic such as the COVID-19 virus. Variables such as the disease entering remote regions, varying degrees of host susceptibility, and the availability of reliable testing are just some of the challenges.
In short, a CFR rate is much more precise when the underlying disease being tracked has run its' course. Even then, it can sometimes take several years after the virus has terminated to get a full CFR picture due to unforeseen factors or newfound data. Nevertheless, even an estimated CFR rate can help determine the severity of an outbreak.
The current CFR rate for COVID-19 in The United States is 1.31, arrived at by taking the current number of reported deaths of 458 and dividing by the total number of cases of 35,079 while Italy is reporting a rate of 9.2. To put these numbers in perspective, the SARS outbreak that was contained on July 5, 2003, had a total of 8,096 cases and 774 deaths across 29 countries to get an overall CFR of 9.6%.
So what are the differences between the annual flu, a dangerous and lethal virus that hits the U.S. each year, and the unknown COVID-19 virus? In the United States, the "flu season" generally runs from late fall into spring. In a typical year, more than 200,000 Americans are hospitalized for flu-related complications, and the CDC (Center for Disease Control) estimates U.S. fatalities resulting from a regular flu season to be between 12,000 and 61,000.
As an example, right now, The United States has seen the current flu season cause an estimated 36 million illnesses, 370,000 hospitalizations, and 22,000 deaths. Contrast that with the COVID-19 virus, as stated above, has a total of 35,079 cases with 458 deaths. And although the number of victims of the COVID-19 virus is relatively small compared to the seasonal flu, it has managed to shut down travel, businesses, recreation activities, and professional sporting events across the country.
The general question on the minds of many Americans is why the COVID-19 virus has caused such widespread chaos, and other catastrophic flu seasons have had little impact? We have reached out to the CDC for a response to this question but have not received an answer.
Perhaps the challenge facing scientists regarding the COVID-19 virus is found in the "basic reproduction number," or R0. The R0 number is another important statistic that scientists use to determine how easily and quickly a virus is spreading. And again, because the COVID-19 virus is continuing to reveal itself, the R0 number is expected to change. Nevertheless, it shows the average number of people who catch the virus from a single infected person. According to Live Science, the flu has an R0 value of about 1.3, which means that every person who gets the flu gives it to an average of 1.3 people. The preliminary estimated R0 number for COVID-19 is between 2 and 2.5.
COVID-19's high R0 number would explain why the virus can spread so swiftly. It also underscores why the precaution taken of closing travel from China by President Trump on January 31, was critical and may prove to be the deciding factor as to why the U.S. sees lower CFR rates than many other countries.
Not to get overwhelmed with statistics, but there is another indication that the quick response by The White House has given The United States more time for the healthcare industry to combat the virus. The U.S. is doing better than European countries in terms of the number of cases per 1 million people.
This number is arrived at by taking the number of cases divided by a quotient. The quotient being the total population of the country divided by 1 million. As an example, Italy has 679 COVID-19 cases per 1 million people, while Spain has 427 cases per 1 million people. In the United States, the number of COVID-19 cases per 1 million people currently stands at 43.
These statistics highlight a stealthy virus that has an incubation period from 5 to nearly 14 days, where the common flu is somewhere between one and four days.
Although the medical community does not yet fully understand the complexities of the COVID-19 virus, the methods encouraged by the COVID-19 task force are so far the best ways to keep the virus in check. Those methods include washing of the hands, with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Avoiding close contact with people who are sick. Putting distance between yourself and other people. Wearing a facemask and staying home if you are sick.