The Covid-19 pandemic has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and has crippled economic activity. It is unquestionably a mortal danger for certain people. However, for the majority of Americans, the pandemic has caused more fear and paralysis than is justified by the data. Political biases and widespread misinformation have caused far too many people to constrain their lives and incomes unnecessarily.
What are some examples of misinformation? Americans believe that people over age 54 account for just over half of Covid-19 deaths, but the actual figure is 92%. They believe people under age 45 account for 30% of deaths, but the actual figure is less than 3%. They believe the risk of death for people under the age of 25 is fifty times higher than the actual rate of 0.15%.
Here are some more facts. Eighty percent of the Covid-19 fatalities are people over the aged of 64. For everyone living outside of long-term care facilities, the infection mortality rate is 0.13%, which is about the same as the seasonal flu at 0.10%. If you are younger than 35, your probability of dying from Covid-19 is 0.0005%. Children under the age of 15 are more likely to die from lightning strikes than from Covid-19.
It is vital to understand how this pandemic affects your particular risk profile so that you can live your life safely, rationally, and productively. Here are ten reasons why Covid-19 is far less risky for most people than the hyper-sensationalized portrayals by the media.
Reason One: The Covid-19 outbreaks have been very localized.
The heaviest outbreaks have occurred in urban areas, assisted living facilities, tourist meccas, and meatpacking plants. Forty percent of the deaths happened in just 1% of U.S. counties. Eighty percent happened in just 10% of U.S. counties. Twenty-five percent of U.S. counties have not experienced a single death. If you live in a single-family home in a rural area, your risk of dying from Covid-19 is considerably lower than if you live in a nursing home in New York City.
Reason Two: The transmission rate of the virus is very low outdoors.
Transmission of the virus happens most often when there is sustained person-to-person contact in an enclosed space. Transient interactions in a public park happen so quickly in such an open environment that transmission is very unlikely. The majority of infections occur in people who have been quarantined indoors. An added benefit of spending time outdoors is that the fresh air, sunshine, and exercise will boost your immune system and your general health.
Reason Three: Age and co-morbidities are the most significant risk factors.
The younger and healthier you are, the more likely that Covid-19 is less dangerous to you than the seasonal flu. The average age of people who die from Covid-19 is 75, which is slightly less than the average age of 78.9 years that people die from all causes. People under the age of 55 account for only 8% of the Covid-19 deaths. Eighty percent of Covid-19 deaths happen to people over the age of 64, and 95% of those are complicated by co-morbidities. Even in Sweden, where lockdowns and school shutdowns were avoided, only 0.026% of Covid-19 deaths were aged 20 or younger. In America, of the 13,500 children aged less than five years who died of all causes since February, only 15 involved Covid-19.
Reason Four: The virus is mutating to less severe strains.
This is a common phenomenon with deadly viruses. Single-helix RNA viruses like Covid-19 are unstable and mutate often. Over time, the mutations are likely to become less severe. This is because high-severity strains are more fatal to their human hosts, which limits opportunity for further transmission. Low-severity strains are less fatal to their human hosts, which increases opportunity for further transmission. Covid-19 deaths have dropped from a peak of 17,000 per week in April to less than 1,000 per week in September despite a rise in case counts, which is an indicator that the virus is becoming less severe.
Reason Five: Our ability to mitigate the severity of Covid-19 infection is improving
Our medical professionals have developed more effective treatment protocols, including vitamin supplementation and use of convalescent blood plasma. We are also building an arsenal of therapeutic drugs that improve recovery if administered early, including hydroxychloroquine (combined with zinc) and remdesivir. Many other drugs are in the testing stages. Hospitalizations are declining, and hospital bed availability is improving. Seventy-five percent of hospital beds are now occupied by non-Covid-19 patients.
Reason Six: We are making progress toward herd immunity
We are learning that a significant portion of our society has natural immunity to Covid-19 or experiences asymptomatic infection when they get it. Many more people than officially reported have already had the disease, based on Covid-19 antibody sampling done in areas with high outbreaks. Many infected people have never been tested, because 80% of cases are mild or asymptomatic (45% of the people who test positive for the disease have no symptoms). Allowing the young and healthy to socialize will help make further low-risk progress toward herd immunity, which will be a great benefit to all of society, especially for those at greater risk.
Reason Seven: Voluntary risk mitigation is helpful when necessary
Older people with co-morbidities should actively mitigate risk, which may include avoiding dense gatherings, avoiding contact with infected people, wearing masks in crowded areas, and self-quarantining. For everyone else, the data suggests that intensive risk-mitigation pays little dividends. Countries and counties that took aggressive risk-mitigation measures are having roughly the same long-term results as those that didn’t.
Reason Eight: Testing and PPE availability have improved dramatically.
If you are fearful of transmission in public, masks and other personal protective equipment are now widely available. The rate of testing of infected and healthy people has increased by orders of magnitude, which helps with individual and local risk-assessment and decision-making.
Reason Nine: Sunshine and Vitamin D supplementation can help
Evidence suggests that lower serum levels of Vitamin D are correlated with higher Covid-19 severity and death rates. Vitamin D generally helps boost the immune system, and may help to mitigate the cytokine storm that accompanies severe cases of Covid-19. This may be one reason why people of color are experiencing higher Covid-19 risks. Melanin, which causes skin pigmentation, reduces the skin’s ability to make Vitamin D in response to sunlight exposure.
Reason Ten: Taking risks is normal
There is a tendency to lose perspective when a new threat emerges, especially when the media fuels hysteria about it. But life always entails risk. Our normal activities include dangers that we usually do not obsess over because we have a natural bias toward living our lives productively and joyfully. For example, commuting to work is more dangerous for a healthy person than Covid-19. It is more dangerous for a child to get the flu than Covid-19. It is more dangerous to be addicted to sugar, alcohol, or drugs than to get Covid-19. It is more dangerous for teenagers to drive than to get Covid-19. It is impossible to avoid risk entirely, so we make choices every day to accept risk in exchange for the benefits of living. If we set “zero risk” or “zero deaths” as the only allowable outcome for every activity, human life would cease because all activity would cease. We should keep all risks in rational, data-driven perspective.
This article is not intended as a medical thesis, since I am not a physician. Rather, I am an observer of data and a fan of reason. This article is intended as a data-driven assessment of risks and opportunities that affect the lives of everyone in America. The choices in front of us are not just medical decisions to be made in a vacuum. They are decisions that affect our entire way of life.
It is certainly important to make safety-conscious decisions. It is also important to avoid triggering a cascade of additional crises, such as poverty, unemployment, economic depression, scarcity of medical services and supplies, scarcity of other essential commodities and services, and potential civil unrest.
We need to save the thousands of small businesses that are jeopardized by lockdowns. We need to put the 30 million unemployed Americans back to work. We need to ensure viable supply chains to support hospitals, firemen, policemen, and every other business and service that makes America function. We need to keep the trucks rolling, because they are the arterial blood nourishing every niche of our nation. These issues are not about stock market prices or GDP or any other arcane economic measurement. They are about maintaining the basic stability of our society, and about providing the goods and services that people need to function in their daily lives.
Are there risks involved in this? Certainly, but the alternative is far worse.
(With appreciation to Follow the Data with Dr. Frank (Facebook) and also to Flattenthefear.com for much of the data in this article)