We've all been living with varying degrees of fear and anxiety over the last few months. Initially I, too, was panicked and scared about COVID19, especially for my husband and our aging parents, who all have underlying health conditions. Lately, though, I'm finding a more-balanced view of the COVID19 risks, and wanted to share additional information that might give you some peace of mind as well.
As a former NASA scientist and engineer who has been a passionate health advocate and researcher for 15+ years, I've been a science nerd for a long time. I like digging deep into scientific studies to gain a better understanding of the methodology and conclusions behind the headlines we hear on the news. It's not uncommon that I find that the headlines aren't really accurate, and that they're not backed up by the scientific data.
I've been digging deep into the COVID19 science for the last few months, seeking to understand the relative severity of this illness as well as the best ways to continue living in this "COVID-positive" world. As this pandemic has continued to develop, more recent data has come out which shows that this illness is not nearly as concerning as people initially thought.
Don't take my word for it: I encourage you to do your own research and draw your own conclusions.
Fatality and Hospitalization Rates are Much Lower
We were initially told that the fatality rates for COVID19 were likely to be in the 3-5% range, and that 10-15% of cases would require hospitalization. These conclusions were based on the best modeling data which was available at the time. However, now we have real data to look at, and the real data is showing that the model predictions were quite high compared to what has really been observed.
For instance, you can see in this guidance document from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), published April 29, 2020, that the real data shows fatality and hospitalization rates much lower than originally anticipated.
Overall fatality rate of 0.4% (this equates to 4 deaths per thousand people)
Fatality rate of 1.3% for ages 65+ (this equates to 13 deaths per thousand people)
Fatality rate of 0.2% for ages 50-64 (2 deaths per thousand people)
Fatality rate of 0.05% for ages 0-49 (0.5 deaths per thousand people)
Overall hospitalization rate of 3.4% (34 hospitalizations per thousand people)
Hospitalization rate of 7.4% for ages 65+ (74 hospitalizations per thousand people)
Hospitalization rate of 4.5% for ages 50-64 (45 hospitalizations per thousand people)
Hospitalization rate of 1.7% for ages 0-49 (17 hospitalizations per thousand people)
To put this into perspective, according to CDC data the seasonal influenza has an overall fatality rate of 0.1% and a hospitalization rate of 1.5%. So, yes, COVID19 clearly has worse fatality and hospitalization rates than the flu. However, the observed COVID19 fatality rate of 0.4% is not nearly as bad as the initially-predicted 3-5%, and the observed hospitalization rate is much lower than the predictions as well.
With an overall fatality rate of 0.4%, the actual illness data is showing the fatality rate to be 10 times less than originally predicted.
Asymptomatic Transmission is Very Rare
Although it was originally thought that asymptomatic transmission was a significant risk with COVID19, the real data has now shown that this is not the case. Data from countries who are utilizing contact tracing is showing that transmission from asymptomatic carriers is not likely. As of June 8, according to the World Health Organization, asymptomatic transmission is "very rare".
It's also generally acknowledged that asymptomatic transmission is not likely to occur by passing near someone briefly. For instance, a recent study by researchers from Harvard (published May 21, 2020) says "We know that wearing a mask outside health care facilities offers little, if any, protection from infection. Public health authorities define a significant exposure to Covid-19 as face-to-face contact within 6 feet with a patient with symptomatic Covid-19 that is sustained for at least a few minutes (and some say more than 10 minutes or even 30 minutes). The chance of catching Covid-19 from a passing interaction in a public space is therefore minimal. In many cases, the desire for widespread masking is a reflexive reaction to anxiety over the pandemic."
Transmission from Surfaces is Unlikely
Initially, we were warned about surface transmission from COVID19. So much so that many people started sanitizing their groceries and taking other extreme measures in the fear that they would catch COVID19 from touching contaminated surfaces. However, now the CDC acknowledges that transmission from surfaces is not likely to happen.