Worst-case Sscenarios aren't the only scenarios
WASHINGTON -- In February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a conference call on COVID-19 and warned, as The New York Times reported, that 160 million to 214 million Americans could become infected and 200,000 to 1.7 million might die.
On March 3, the World Health Organization noted that globally 3.4% of those infected with the virus died.
These numbers have become frequent talking points -- even though they presented an inflated picture based on cases confirmed because patients had symptoms in countries with dubious health care systems. We are living in a news climate where the scarier the factoid, the more credibility it can claim.
"The problem is the experts don't know this number either," Stanford University Medical Professor Jayanta Bhattacharya told me after he became alarmed at some of the high estimates floating around -- including numbers that, for example, didn't factor in the effects of social distancing.
And it bothers Bhattacharya that risk assessments see risk only in not following guidelines when there can be risk in following them. "There's mortality on both sides of this," he explained.
Understand, I'm staying home for 14 days, as a doctor recommended, after exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus. When the 14 days are up, I'll follow what's left of President Donald Trump's Coronavirus Task Force 15 Days to Slow the Spread plan. If the guidelines continue, I will continue to adhere to them.
I know I am not an expert -- so I'll go along with what doctors recommend. But I can still voice skepticism about dire predictions that the nation has to hunker down for many months, and I can wonder if a multimonth shutdown, which some officials are suggesting, will produce economic outcomes that are bad for human health and longevity.
And I'm open to news that doesn't offer the worst possible information.
As of Wednesday, the mortality rate in the United States was about 1.5% -- with a patient pool that largely was symptomatic. Dr. Anthony Fauci told Congress he believes the coronavirus mortality rate is 1% -- 10 times larger than the 0.1% rate for the common flu.
Bhattacharya sifted through studies, corrected for certain factors and came up with morality rate closer to one-half of 1% -- but he won't trust that estimate until there is a study to back it up.