Since the beginning of the pandemic, health officials have called for more testing to create an accurate picture of just how many Americans are infected with the coronavirus. We haven’t been able to accomplish widespread, random testing so our statistics may be skewed, says one expert.
Dr. Nir Menachemi, a noted professor of health policy and management at Indiana University, conducted his own random survey of COVID-19 infections and fatality rates within his own state to try and gather more relevant information. His conclusions show that the death rate for COVID-19 is far lower than statistically reported, but still six times greater than the flu.
Menachemi and his team performed random testing for SARS-CoV-2 across the state and arrived at the some of most accurate data about the coronavirus to date.
“Our team randomly selected thousands of Indiana residents whether they had been sick or not,” he said in an article written for The Conversation. “From this testing we were able to gather some of the first truly representative data on coronavirus infection rates at a state level.”
Among the Menachemi’s findings were that 2.8% of the state’s population had been infected with SARS-CoV-2 and that Hispanics were hit much harder. Their results were based on two tests for every person, the standard PCR swab and an antibody test to check for past infections.
According to these numbers, 188,000 Indiana residents had been infected by the virus by late April, although the official confirmed cases, including deaths, was only 17,000. However, while early estimates suggested that the COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. were 5% to 6% of cases, the new numbers gathered by Menachemi’s group suggest that the fatality rates are far lower.
“If you divide the confirmed cases in Indiana —17,000 — by the deaths — 1099 — the infection-fatality rate is 6.3%,” he wrote. But recalculating the equation using the 188,000 residents actually infected by the virus, this dropped the fatality rate to 0.58% which is far lower, but still nearly six times higher than the seasonal flu which has a death rate of 0.1%.
According to statistics, the coronavirus appears to be more deadly in some countries than in others, according to NPR. For example, in Italy the death toll for those infected was about 10%, in Spain it was higher than 7%, while in Germany the figure was closer to 0.5%.
“Case fatality rates have been very confusing,” Dr. Steven Lawrence, an infectious disease expert and associate professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in March. “The numbers may look different even if the actual situation is the same.”
Experts predicted that once we are able to test a broader range of the population, the fatality rate in the U.S. will end up between 0.5% and 1%, similar to the numbers quoted by Menachemi. Menachemi said that continued vigilance with safety precautions are needed to keep the numbers of cases down.
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