Determining the Current Aggregate Risk of Dying from COVID-19

When you search COVID-19 cases and deaths in Google, look below the case and death totals so you can see the new case and fatality totals added since the last update. Calculate the case fatality rate (CFR) using those figures. Multiply the CFR by a factor of ten to estimate the infection fatality rate (IFR). Doing this yields rates of 0.5% and 0.05%. That is overall. As we know, death rates for most age groups is much lower than this.

We are interested in the present death rate because we want to calculate risk in real time. Taking the rate from the entire number of cases over several months produces a distortion, even while the overall rate declines with time. The rates of CFR were very high early on for several reasons. One of the reasons was because fewer cases were being diagnosed. Today there is a lot more testing. As a result there are a lot more cases. It looks scary when we see the number of cases going up. But when we realize that the rising number of cases indicates that the virus is much less lethal than we have been told, the rising number of cases has a silver lining.

The relative risk visàvis age is also very important to reckon. The median age of death from COVID-19 is mid-80s. Two-thirds of persons at this age will die next year from something other than COVID-19. In the beginning, COVID-19 was highly lethal to the very old and infirm. It was never extraordinarily lethal to other age groups and healthy individuals. Even for the very old and infirm, most survive the disease, and that number improves everyday. Indeed, early on, more than one-quarter of those hospitalized with COVID-19 died. That figure is now around three percent.

You know your health. Adjust aggregate and relative risks in light of your personal circumstances. I have preexisting health conditions, so I am more cautious than I otherwise would be. But from a public health standpoint, lockdowns make no sense. There is no reason to subject to a population that is not generally at risk from this virus to the draconian rules that have been imposed and are being imposed. Don’t forget, these rules have had severe downstream effects, as I have discussed in past blogs. The authorities understand this. They aren’t stupid. The public needs to start asking questions of the politicians. What has this really been about?

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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