Footnotes & Facts: A Coronavirus Update

by Colin Berkshire

Currently there are 95,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 3,252 deaths. 51,156 are confirmed recovered individuals. If you prefer visuals, here is a chart from Johns Hopkins:

So what does this tell us?

  • In China the number of new coronavirus cases is tapering off (See orange curve). It’s a distinct trend now. There are many speculations as to why the tapering is happening: (a) The quarantines may be working, (b) the virus may have already gotten to the most vulnerable individuals, (c) the weather may be changing, (d) unknown.
  • The death rate has climbed to 3.4% of confirmed cases; it is up from 1.4% in January. This is most likely because more cases have gone “full term” whereas in January many cases were still pending disposition.
  • 54% of all cases are now cleared, and are deemed “Recovered” (See green curve). The remaining 43% may still be ill or may not have reported an outcome. It’s reasonable that many who contracted coronavirus may have recovered but not told anybody.
  • We are seeing significant growth in new cases throughout the world, and there is no sign of it tapering off (See yellow curve.). This goes back to the question of why China has tapered off in China and the answer is: we just don’t yet know.
    There is another interesting chart which shows coronavirus mortality by age:

We know the coronavirus preys on those who are weak and that have compromised immune systems.

So where does that leave us?

  • The highest concentration of coronavirus cases is still the Wuhan metropolitan area*, and with 75-million people and with 67,332 confirmed cases this is still under the 1000-persons in 1-million infection rate I reported earlier. No other area, no city, and no country has yet exceeded this 1-in-1000 ratio. We don’t know why, but it is a good reference point.
  • As I mentioned before the human natural death rate (mortality rate) is about 1.4%. So you can understand this, consider that the average person worldwide lives to about age 70. Then using math 1/70=1.43%. This is the broad average mortality rate, all causes. (Granted in China and the US it is lower, at about 1.25%)
  • The coronavirus death rate of 3.4% sounds high compared with the normal death rate of 1.4%. But remember that the 3.4% is only of persons confirmed to have contracted coronavirus, which is 1-in-1000 persons at most. Thus, the revised coronavirus death rate across the entire population is about 0.000034 or 0.0034%. As you can see, the coronavirus morbidity is statistically very small…so small as to be within “statistical noise” or “round off error” of the far larger overall death rate.
  • The revised death rate of 3.4% is a blended rate. As you can see from the chart on mortality rate by age, it really only affects older persons; the older the more impacted, starting roughly at age 60. China’s official mortality rate is 2.3%, although the facts seem to support my higher 3.4% number (link). The difference is likely because when the Chinese rate was published fewer cases had gone full-term.

What else do we know?

What this means—from the best information available—is the while coronavirus is a big event, it is not that big of an event. The morgues don’t need to hire extra staff to handle the dead bodies…the increase in their workload is only 0.24%. They normally process 14,000 persons in a typical 1-million population and now they will be processing 14,034 persons.

I cannot emphasize this enough: While big news (selling lots of advertisements and generating lots of profits for the media companies) the coronavirus has been greatly blown out of proportion. From what we have seen, it will impact relatively few people (less than 1-in-1000 people) and will kill a small number (about 34 in 1-million.) It’s not zero people, but it is nowhere near what humans have experienced during previous plagues.

What should you do?

  • Wash your hands often, don’t touch things, don’t touch your own face. Ordinary bar or liquid soap works just fine, you don’t need anti-bacterial soap or alcohol or chlorine. DO NOT use hand-lotion soaps, they have demonstrated they are not effective, perhaps because of the milder pH.
  • Don’t create panic. Go about your normal, usual life. Just be smart about it. Hoarding can disrupt the economy.
  • Trust that in 1~2 years we will have a vaccine and/or treatment. It takes a while to do these things, even when at maximum speed. Pharma companies smell profits and researchers smell fame. So it’s coming.

This is a follow-up to my previous post: Coronavirus, Get Over It with new information as the story/concern develops.

*Some clarifications:

  • I simply call it “coronavirus” but it has more formal names including COVID-19 or “coronavirus disease 2019” or also as 2019-nCoV.
  • I previously mentioned that there seemed to be (at the time) 75,000 confirmed cases in China, almost all of which were in a quarantined area with a population of about 75-million located in the Wuhan area. The 75-million in quarantine was a metropolitan area including Wuhan, the Hubei province, and nearby areas. I abbreviated this and just called it “Wuhan”, although the city-proper does only contain 11-million people. Sorry if it was confusing to call the entire quarantined area “Wuhan.” It is similar to describing Seattle with a population of 4-million, although the city proper only has a population of about 750,000.
  • For the natural death rate I have used the simplified 1.4% “All-causes excluding infant mortality and conflict rate” to take out the irrelevant issue of infant mortality, war, etc. It is simply the reciprocal of an average life expectancy of 70 years (=1.4%)