WSJ: Is the Coronavirus as Deadly as They Say?

Source behind paywall.

An article at WSJ mentions something Dr. Tabor alluded to in another thread today: Testing to determine how many people have coronavirus antibodies. Those test results are necessary to determine the actual infection rate which, in turn, is necessary to know the actual mortality rate:

“If it’s true that the novel coronavirus would kill millions without shelter-in-place orders and quarantines, then the extraordinary measures being carried out in cities and states around the country are surely justified. But there’s little evidence to confirm that premise—and projections of the death toll could plausibly be orders of magnitude too high.

“Fear of Covid-19 is based on its high estimated case fatality rate—2% to 4% of people with confirmed Covid-19 have died, according to the World Health Organization and others. So if 100 million Americans ultimately get the disease, two million to four million could die. We believe that estimate is deeply flawed. The true fatality rate is the portion of those infected who die, not the deaths from identified positive cases.

“The latter rate is misleading because of selection bias in testing. The degree of bias is uncertain because available data are limited. But it could make the difference between an epidemic that kills 20,000 and one that kills two million. If the number of actual infections is much larger than the number of cases—orders of magnitude larger—then the true fatality rate is much lower as well. That’s not only plausible but likely based on what we know so far…

“…An epidemic seed [that arrived in the U.S.] on Jan. 1 implies that by March 9 about six million people in the U.S. would have been infected. As of March 23, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 499 Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. If our surmise of six million cases is accurate, that’s a mortality rate of 0.01%, assuming a two week lag between infection and death. This is one-tenth of the flu mortality rate of 0.1%. Such a low death rate would be cause for optimism.

“…Given the enormous consequences of decisions around Covid-19 response, getting clear data to guide decisions now is critical. We don’t know the true infection rate in the U.S. Antibody testing of representative samples to measure disease prevalence (including the recovered) is crucial. Nearly every day a new lab gets approval for antibody testing, so population testing using this technology is now feasible.

“If we’re right about the limited scale of the epidemic, then measures focused on older populations and hospitals are sensible [and]…

“A universal quarantine may not be worth the costs it imposes on the economy, community and individual mental and physical health. We should undertake immediate steps to evaluate the empirical basis of the current lockdowns.”

Evidence continues to accumulate that our media and political response to Covid-19 may prove to have been an overreaction that we need to recalibrate.

8 thoughts on “WSJ: Is the Coronavirus as Deadly as They Say?

  1. It does make some sense in that we only test those who are already having a severe case.

    But it should be easy to check statistically. If the infection rate is really that much higher than known cases, herd immunity should develop much more rapidly in affected areas, and the transmission rate should fall measurably, and new cases, as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. RE: “If the infection rate is really that much higher than known cases, herd immunity should develop much more rapidly in affected areas, and the transmission rate should fall measurably, and new cases, as well.”

      Fascinating.

      Like

  2. That would be comforting news. But the issue is actually knowing who has been exposed and having been exposed recovered without hospitalization. (The authors do appear to say that). But without testing EVERYBODY, it is hard to say one way or the other.

    Their hypothesis is not bad, but the data (not just their’s, but all of the agencies following this) is incomplete making a 100% guarantee (or even 80%) of accuracy hard to determine.

    Good optimistic piece. I continue to stand by the idea of remaining guardedly optimistic.

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    1. RE: “But without testing EVERYBODY, it is hard to say one way or the other.”

      Not necessarily. As Dr. Tabor points out, one can extrapolate the infection rate statistically using test data that reveals prior infections (evidenced by the presence of antibodies).

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      1. True. But because of the fluctuations in regional rates, would it be an accurate result?

        Not saying anything bad about it and it can be good news. I am just wondering about the accuracy of trying to do this at a national level.

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      2. RE: “But because of the fluctuations in regional rates, would it be an accurate result?”

        That depends on the quality of the statistical analysis. The point is that testing EVERYBODY is not a necessary approach to get a valid statistical answer.

        Remember that what we want to know is the mortality rate based on the number of infections. That would be based largely on the nature of the disease, which presumably is the same no matter where it breaks out.

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  3. Semi-off topic question regarding this post and its link.

    Is WSJ providing free access during the current situation? NYT says it is, but as a subscriber, I see it all anyway. I was able to read the entire WSJ piece without a paywall issue. That is why I am asking. There are some other normally subscription-only news sites that are offering free access. Not sure which ones, but the Washington Post is not currently one of them. (Or at least as of Monday it wasn’t)

    Like

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