By Bill Rice, Jr.

In March, Anthony Fauci told members of Congress that COVID-19 was “10 times more deadly” than seasonal flu. While I’m not prepared to call BS on the Great and Powerful Fauci, I do question this statement. At the very least, I think a fairer analysis would place the relative health risks of the two viruses in a context that’s significantly less frightening.

Among Caucasian Americans under the age of 45 (and especially under the age of 25), it seems that the mortality rate from COVID-19 is much lower than the mortality rate for the seasonal flu, which according to Dr. Fauci is 0.1. In other words, it is the flu that is more deadly than COVID, at least for middle-aged and younger Caucasian Americans.

Using the CDC’s data on flu cases dating back to the flu season of 2015-2016, I calculated the case fatality rates for influenza among young Americans, and using my best estimates compared them to COVID mortality rates among those in approximately the same age group.

Over the four flu seasons shown below, the average case mortality rate for influenza for Americans ages 18 to 49 was 0.0184. This is approximately 1.74 times higher than the case fatality rate for COVID-19 for all Caucasian Americans under the age of 45 (0.0106). 

The following is not an apples-to-apples comparison. See the note at the end of the article for more information.

COVID-19 case fatality rate, Caucasian 0 to 44: 0.0106 

(Math: 1,089 deaths among this group divided by an estimated 10.35 million COVID cases in this group.)

Influenza case fatality rate, 2015-2016 flu season, ages 18 to 49: 0.0187

(Math: 1,703 deaths divided by an estimated 9.121 million cases of flu in this age group.)

Influenza case fatality rate, 2016-2017 flu season, ages 18 to 49: 0.0147

(Math: 1,365 deaths divided by an estimated 9.293 million cases of the flu in this age group.)

Influenza case fatality rate, 2017-2018 flu season, ages 18 to 49: 0.0195

(Math: 2,803 deaths divided by an estimated 14.43 million cases of the flu in this age group.)

Influenza case fatality rate 2018-2019 flu season: 0.0206

(Math: 2,450 deaths divided by an estimated 11.91 million cases of the flu in this age group.)

The flu also kills far more young people in a given season than have died from or with COVID-19.  (Again, exact apples-to-apples age comparisons were not possible due to differences in age groups that are not identical.)

On average, 410 Americans younger than 18 died from the flu in the four flu seasons shown. By way of comparison, only 81 Americans younger than 15 had died from COVID-19 as of Nov. 10. Only 96 Caucasian Americans younger than 25 have died of COVID through Nov. 10.

This means that, on average, 4.27 times more Americans under the age of 18 died from the flu in each of the past four years than the number of Caucasian Americans 24 and under who have died from COVID so far this year. Here are the numbers from the CDC website.

Deaths from the flu, Ages 0 to 17, all races:

(Compared to Caucasian deaths from COVID, ages 0 through 24, through Nov. 10.)

2015-2016 flu season: 268 flu deaths for ages 0 to 17 (compared to 96 COVID deaths, Caucasians 0 to 24.)

2016-2017 flu season: 251 flu deaths (96 COVID deaths so far in 2020, roughly same age group.)

2017-2018 flu season: 643 flu deaths (96 COVID deaths.)

2018-2019 flu season: 477 flu deaths (96 COVID deaths.)

One obvious takeaway: Parents worried about sending their children to school because of fears of COVID should know that their child has a significantly higher risk of dying from the flu in a given school year than he or she does of dying from COVID-19.

Dr. Fauci’s statement that COVID-19 is “10 times more deadly than the flu” is largely explained by the disproportionate impact COVID has had on those 65 and older. 

Deaths attributed to COVID-19 among those 65 and older total 177,375 (through Nov. 10). In the previous four years combined, flu deaths among the same age group totaled only 126,799. Expressed as an average, only 31,687  Americans ages 65 and over died of the flu in these four years; just 17.8 percent of the total that has already died from or with COVID-19.

While Dr. Fauci is no doubt correct in stating that, among the entire population,  COVID-19 is much more deadly than the seasonal flu, this statement should perhaps be qualified by a clarifying question: Doesn’t just one segment of the populationthe very oldexplain this overwhelming disparity?

***

Showing my work: Estimating the case mortality rate for middle-aged and younger Caucasians.

To ascertain a case fatality rate, simply divide the number of fatalities by the number of confirmed or estimated cases (be it influenza or COVID-19.)

Among Caucasian Americans younger than 45, we know that there has been only 1,089 deaths (updated through Nov. 10) attributed to COVID-19. To estimate the case fatality rate, we need to ascertain the number of positive cases in the same demographic. Unfortunately, this figure is either unknown or not publicly available (via age groups.) It is nevertheless still possible to estimate this figure.

Through Nov. 13, 11.054 million Americans had tested positive for COVID. As the 2020 population of the U.S. is estimated to be 331 million, this means 3.34 percent of the country’s population has tested positive for COVID as of this date. 

Per my research, the population of Caucasian Americans at or under the age of 44 is approximately 99 million. If we simply apply this 3.34-percent infection rate to the population of Caucasian Americans younger than 45, we get an estimated  3.306 million people. (Math: 99 million Caucasian Americans younger than 45 multiplied by .0334-percent COVID infection rate equals an estimated 3.306 million people who have been infected by COVID-19 in the focus group of Caucasians younger than 45.)

I also know, however, that according to CDC studies and common sense, younger people (who generally tend to be more active and come into contact with far more people) are more likely to test positive for COVID-19 than older people. Therefore, using my best guess, I added 5 percent to my total.

My conservative ballpark estimate of Caucasian Americans younger than 45 who have tested positive for COVID-19 is, therefore, 3.45 million. (This number would equal 31.2 percent of all confirmed COVID cases through Nov. 13 data, which sounds about right as Caucasians under the age of 45 make up about 30 percent of the nation’s population.)

To get an estimate of the COVID case fatality rate for Caucasians younger than 45, I divided 1,089 deaths into the estimated 3.45 million people from the same demographic who have so far tested positive.

Based on this extrapolation, I estimate that the COVID case fatality rate for Caucasians younger than 45 is approximately 0.0316.

Dr. Fauci told Congress that the case fatality rate for the flu is 0.1000. According to my math and logic, the case fatality rate for Caucasian Americans at or under the white median age of 44 is 1/3 that of the seasonal flu death rate.

To be fair, the current COVID case fatality rate for ALL Americans (249,925 deaths divided by 11.054 million cases) is extremely high at 2.26 percent which is 22 1/2 times higher than the flu mortality rate of 0.1. But this scarier number includes all deaths, and would be far less frightening if it only included Caucasian Americans who are middle-aged or younger. In other words, as with the fluwhich disproportionately kills the elderlythe COVID fatality rate is massively skewed by deaths in the 70-and-older demographic.

Case fatality rates aren’t giving us an accurate picture

But even these official case fatality rates are not nearly as scary as we are supposed to believe they are. In fact, they are significantly inflated for the simple reason we don’t know how many people have actually contracted the virus.  

In late June, the director of the CDC, Robert Redfield, estimated that the true number of people who had contracted the novel coronavirus was likely “10 times” more than the number of confirmed cases as of that date. 

According to a study conducted by Nature Communications, the true number of people who have contracted COVID-19 is likely 3 to 20 times higher than the number of positive cases would indicate.

To this writer, both estimates ring true (and perhaps are even conservative) when one simply considers the number of asymptomatic cases associated with COVID-19.

Basically, 60 to 80 percent of Americans never develop symptoms, or experience only very mild symptoms. Because of this, an untold number of Americans have no doubt had the virus without even knowing it.

I am also convinced, based on copious research and original reporting, that the virus almost certainly began to spread in America last November and December, not late February of this year. If true, this would mean that millions of Americans could have already contracted the virus before PCR tests began to fill medical clinics across the country in early April.

To get the real case fatality numbers, one would have to multiply the number of confirmed cumulative cases by 3 to 20. (The ratio of the population that has probably already been exposed to the virus.)

Out of curiosity, I calculated COVID case mortality rates using these more realistic estimates. To be conservative, I used the lower end estimate of 3x more people with COVID than reported.

This would mean that instead of 11.054 million confirmed cases as of the date of this writing, there might actually have been 33.163 million Americans who have already contracted the virus. Using this higher number for my denominator, we get a case fatality rate at the moment of .7500 for all Americans and all cases. This is still a high number, but certainly not 10 times more deadly than the flu’s mortality rate of .1000 which by my calculations is actually 7.5 times higher.

If we believe five times more people have contracted the coronavirus than positive tests indicate, the COVID case mortality rate falls to .4500. If 10 times as many people had actually contracted the virus as has been reported (110.5 million Americans or one-third of the population), we would get a COVID mortality rate of .2261 which is still higher than the flu, but only by a factor of 2.26.

But these figures include mortality numbers from the entire population, and we know that 80 percent of America’s COVID deaths occurred among people ages 65 and older.

If we just focus on Caucasians at or beneath the white median age of 44 and multiply the number of COVID cases in this demographic by 3, the COVID mortality rate for this segment of the population (as of Nov. 13) would be a mere 0.0106. (Math: Instead of dividing 1,089 deaths into 3.45 million estimated cases, we divide the death figure into a new estimate of 10.35 million positive cases.)

Again, remember that the flu mortality rate is 0.1000. By tripling the number of likely positive cases, the COVID-19 mortality rate for whites under 45 (.0106) would be approximately 90 percent LOWER than the mortality rate for the flu (0.1000).

By simply increasing the number of likely cases by a factor of 3, the COVID-19 death rate would probably be below the flu death rate for all Caucasian Americans younger than 65.

Bottom line: If you happen to be Caucasian and younger than retirement age, and dying from the flu doesn’t register on your personal fear scale, dying from COVID-19 shouldn’t either.

If you are well up in age or suffer from a known risk factor like obesity or diabetes, a concern over COVID-19 is warranted. For certain people, this virus is and can be very serious and lethal. Ninety-nine percent of Americans, fortunately, do NOT fall into these higher-risk categories.

As pointed out elsewhere, most people who contract COVID probably don’t even know it. Every person who contracts the flu knows it. For those 65 and older, COVID-19 is indeed far more deadly than the flu. But for most younger Americans, catching a moderate or bad case of the flu is much more likely to ruin your week.

***

Note: comparison of COVID mortality rates to influenza mortality rates: The above does not qualify as an apples-to-apples comparison. The flu mortality figures include all races, while my COVID mortality figures focus only on Caucasians. The COVID category uses data from ages 0 to 44, and the influenza statistics are from the CDC’s estimates of ages 18 to 49. Also, the COVID figures are current through eight months while the flu numbers are figures for the entire year. (A typical flu season lasts only six months.) For this comparison, I multiplied the number of confirmed positive COVID cases by 3 to get a more realistic, albeit conservative, estimate of total cases.

Bill Rice, Jr. is a freelance writer in Troy, Alabama. He can be reached by email at:
wjricejunior@gmail.com