A recent study found that death toll reports attributed only 65% of the excess deaths in the U.S. to COVID-19. The US death rate from the coronavirus could be up to 49 times higher than the flu.

Though some symptoms of the flu and COVID-19 sometimes overlap, comparing the death rates of the two shows just how much worse the coronavirus is.

While about 0.1% of people who got the flu died in the US last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the coronavirus’ death rate is currently about 4.9%, based on the reported totals of cases and deaths. That makes the coronavirus’ average death rate about 49 times higher than that of the flu. If we had adequate testing it might be lower since we would pick up more asymptomatic cases but the same applies to influenza. The COVID-19 case totals likely far undercounts the true scope of the outbreak because it includes only those who have gotten tested. It also undercounts the excess deaths from COVID by up to 35 percent. Some cases might involve patients with COVID-19 who died from related complications, such as heart disease, and those complications may have been listed as the cause of death rather than COVID-19.

Death rates of both the flu and the coronavirus vary widely between age groups, and both seem to be most fatal among people over 65. During the 2018-19 flu season, about 35 million people in the US contracted the flu and about 34,000 died, according to the CDC. In that season, about one out of every 1,000 people who got the flu died. Remember we are only 5 months into this and it has surprised us at every turn. We have done a terrible job testing, contact tracing, educating about the benefits of masks, and distancing.

All told, what we’re seeing is a death count well beyond what we would normally expect for this time of year, and it’s only partially explained by cases attributed directly to COVID-19. Excess deaths not linked to COVID-19 rose significantly in states that had the largest outbreaks of the disease during the virus’s peak in early April. These included Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. For example, in these states, there were 96% more diabetes-related deaths than experts predicted. For heart disease, the figure was 89%; for Alzheimer’s disease, it was 64%; and for stroke, it was 35%. We are now probably going to see these same phenomena in all the states experiencing large outbreaks now. Some ways we could dramatically slow the transmission of COVID-19 is to close bars and limit seating in restaurants, have people avoid crowds, and get at least 90% of people to wear masks correctly when out in public.

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