A new study has found that even if social distancing measures stay in place for months to come, 1.2 million Americans could die from the deadly novel coronavirus.
As The Hill reported, a study made by the Comparative Health Outcomes, Policy and Economics Institute at the University of Washington’s School of Pharmacy looked at the current death rates and infection rates to try and determine how many more lives could be claimed by the disease.
The study found that 1.3 percent of people who contact COVID-19 die from it, which makes the disease 13 times deadlier than the common influenza, which has an average death rate of about 0.1 percent. If that current rate holds, between 350,000 and 1.2 million people in the United States could die by 2021.
“This is a staggering number, which can only be brought down with sound public health measures,” Anirban Basu, the study’s co-author, noted.
The research assumed the current supply of hospital beds, ventilators, and doctors available to treat patients wouldn’t change, but if vital healthcare became less accessible, it could increase the number of deaths from the virus. It is also worthy to point out the study was concluded on April 20, before most states had begun to re-open their economies and relax social distancing requirements.
To reach their prediction, the researchers looked at 116 counties across 33 states to estimate fatality and infection rates. Their numbers came in lower than the World Health Organization, who has suggested the disease could have a fatality rate as high as 3.4 percent, but was likely lower. Other studies have theorized the virus has a fatality rate closer to 0.05 percent, which is still five times higher than the flu.
This study differentiates from the infection fatality rate — which measures only those who have tested positive for the virus and subsequently died — by looking at infections across the population at large, tested or not.
Assuming the novel coronavirus infects about 10 percent of the population — similar to the seasonal flu — that means up to 1.3 million Americans could die from the virus by the end of the year. This number could change, as some states that have begun to reopen have experienced a surge in new cases that the study didn’t account for.
Basu said the results of their research put some questions about the virus to bed.
“COVID-19 infection is deadlier than flu — we can put that debate to rest,” he stated.
So far, over 1.5 million people in the United States have been infected with the disease and over 90,000 have died, though experts say those numbers likely under-represent the actual toll of the disease.