In An Exchange About Coronavirus, Homeland Security Chief Gets Flu Mortality Rate Wrong

Statement: Says the mortality charge for the flu is “right around” that of the brand new coronavirus. “It’s right around 2%.”

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, in Feb. 25 testimony earlier than a Senate appropriations subcommittee

During a Senate appropriations Feb. 25 subcommittee listening to, Chad Wolf, the performing secretary of Homeland Security, stated the U.S. flu mortality charge was about the identical as the present estimated international mortality charge of the coronavirus outbreak.

He made this assertion throughout an change with Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) concerning what the performing secretary knew concerning the coronavirus, which causes a illness generally known as COVID-19. This C-SPAN video exhibits the complete dialogue between the 2.

Kennedy first requested what the worldwide mortality charge for coronavirus is, to which Wolf responded that it was “under 2%” however that he would wish to verify with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get the precise determine and that “it changes daily.” The Louisiana senator then requested, “What’s the mortality rate for influenza over, say, the last 10 years in America?”

Wolf answered: “It’s also right around that percentage as well. I don’t have that offhand, but it’s right around 2% as well.”

We requested the Department of Homeland Security the place Wolf’s determine got here from.

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A DHS spokesperson stated in an e mail, “As the acting secretary said in his hearing, he did not have that information on hand and refers to Health and Human Services — the federal agency in charge of the federal government’s coronavirus response.”

Comparing mortality charges between the coronavirus and flu appeared like an essential mechanism for understanding the rising concern concerning the attain of coronavirus, so we determined to dig deeper to search out out if these statistics maintain up. We additionally requested specialists to clarify what the numbers imply when it comes to danger.

Digging Into Mortality Rate Numbers

The CDC directed us to its online influenza resources and referred us to the World Health Organization for extra info on coronavirus.

Christopher Mores, a world well being professor at George Washington University, helped make sense of some figures. He calculated the common, 10-year mortality charge for flu utilizing CDC information and located it was zero.1%. That zero.1% charge is incessantly cited amongst specialists, together with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar on the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, known as it “sort of the canonical seasonal influenza mortality figure.”

It’s essential to notice that, though this share looks like a small quantity, influenza is accountable for an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 deaths yearly.

Now, for coronavirus.

According to statistics launched Feb. 17 by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the mortality charge for coronavirus was 2.three%. That’s based mostly on instances reported via Feb. 11 and calculated by dividing the numbers of coronavirus-related deaths on the time (1,023) by the variety of the confirmed instances (44,672) of the coronavirus.  (These numbers mirror the data accessible on the time of the secretary’s testimony.)

But this report has limitations, Mores stated, together with the obscure manner Chinese officers are defining who has been contaminated by the coronavirus.

“We have not been able to understand what precisely has gone on there,” stated Mores. “They have changed their case definitions multiple times. It’s murky what has gone into the case count and who has gone into being counted on cases.”

The WHO stated in a press conference Monday that in Wuhan, China, the town the place the virus emerged, the mortality charge ranged from 2% to four%. Officials stated that in the remainder of China, outdoors of Wuhan, the mortality charge of coronavirus is zero.7%.

Mike Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy on the University of Minnesota, stated the mortality charge in China has since risen to zero.9%.

Right now he doesn’t see a similarity within the flu mortality charge and the coronavirus mortality charge. “We don’t have any evidence to that being the case,” stated Osterholm.

Mores stated U.S. well being officers simply don’t have sufficient info to know whether or not the 2 mortality charges are comparable. Understanding this comparability would supply a way to higher perceive the severity of the coronavirus. It might additionally assist in educating the general public concerning the novel sickness.

“Until we can gain our own experience with this virus, it’s going to be pretty squishy. So, all the numbers that you have come across here are within the range of possibility,” he stated. “Absolutely, the hope is we will end up with something similar to the flu, but we just don’t know yet.”

Multiple specialists informed us that the variety of coronavirus instances not simply in China however worldwide has most likely been undercounted as a result of many individuals with the an infection don’t undergo severe signs and will not search medical therapy. It is feasible that solely those that have examined optimistic are being counted as “confirmed cases.”

Until the case definition is expanded to incorporate individuals clinicians suppose might have COVID-19 however who weren’t examined for it, they stated, the entire estimated variety of instances will stay decrease than the doubtless actuality. But, if the variety of instances widens to incorporate these with gentle signs who haven’t been examined, then the mortality charge will go down.

This is the way in which mortality charges are calculated for the flu, stated Mores. The numbers of flu sicknesses and deaths are estimates based mostly not solely on optimistic flu checks, but additionally on medical doctors’ suspicions and symptomatic prognosis.

One key distinction between the flu and the coronavirus sickness, Osterholm cautioned, is that, with the flu, the inhabitants has built-up immunity, whether or not via receiving flu photographs or already having been uncovered to the sickness.

Mores concurred. “You know, the risk is this: We have a brand-new virus in a completely naive population on Earth; we’re all susceptible to it. Everyone is potentially infectable with this virus,” he stated. “Even with a high transmission rate and the low case fatality rate, that still becomes a massive number of ill and fatal cases.”

Our Ruling

There are two methods to parse out this declare: First, is it true that the common U.S. mortality charge for flu is 2%?

That’s not true, based on information from the CDC and exchanges with a number of international well being specialists. On common, the flu mortality charge in the course of the previous 10 years has been zero.1%. In addition, Wolf and a DHS spokesperson admitted that the performing secretary didn’t have the statistics in entrance of him when he answered questions on the listening to concerning the mortality charges.

Second, is it true the COVID-19 mortality charge is much like the flu mortality charge?

Wolf can also be incorrect on that account, based mostly on the restricted info at present recognized concerning the coronavirus. Recent information from the Chinese authorities set the COVID-19 mortality charge at 2.three%. That’s vastly completely different from the flu’s mortality charge of zero.1%.

Experts additionally stated that whereas it’s potential the mortality charge from the brand new virus might come near the flu’s mortality charge ultimately ― if the case definition of coronavirus had been expanded — it’s too quickly to make that assumption with the restricted info accessible.

For these causes, we charge the declare False.

Source List:

C-SPAN, “Department of Homeland Security Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Request,” Feb. 25, 2020.

The Washington Post, “Trump’s DHS head has a brutal exchange on coronavirus — courtesy of a GOP senator,” Feb. 25, 2020.

Email change with the Department of Homeland Security Office of Public Affairs, Feb. 26, 2020.

Email change with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Office of the Associate Director for Communications, Feb. 28, 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Influenza,” web page final reviewed Jan. 27, 2015.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Estimated Influenza Illnesses, Medical visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths in the United States — 2018–2019 influenza season,” web page final up to date Jan. Eight, 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Coronavirus Disease 2019 COVID-19,” web page final up to date Feb. 14, 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Disease Burden of Influenza,” web page final up to date Jan. 10, 2020.

Phone interview with Christopher Mores, a professor of worldwide well being on the Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University, Feb. 27, 2020.

Email change with Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, Feb. 26, 2020.

Phone interview with Michael Osterholm, Regents professor and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy on the University of Minnesota, Feb. 27, 2020.

Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Vital Surveillances: The Epidemiological Characteristics of an Outbreak of 2019 Novel Coronavirus Diseases (COVID-19) — China, 2020,” Feb. 17, 2020.

JAMA, “Characteristics of and Important Lessons From the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Outbreak in China,” Feb. 24, 2020.

World Health Organization, “Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Press Conference 24 February 2020,” Feb. 24, 2020.

Email change with Yanzhong Huang, a professor and director of the Center for Global Health Studies at Seton Hall University and senior fellow for international well being research on the Council on Foreign Relations, Feb. 26, 2020.

Email change with Ian Lipkin, John Snow professor and director of the Center for Infection and Immunity, Columbia University, Feb. 26, 2020.

The Washington Post, “White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert resigns,” April 10, 2018.

The Washington Post, “Top White House official in charge of pandemic response exits abruptly,” May 10, 2018.

The Washington Post Health 202, “President Trump made it harder to fight coronavirus by actions he took two years ago,” Feb. 27, 2020.

Center for Strategic and International Studies, “Ending the Cycle of Crisis and Complacency in U.S. Global Health Security,” November 2019.

Democratic Senators’ Letter to National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, “021320 NSC Novel Coronavirus Letter,” Feb. 13, 2020.

Politico, “Lawmakers spar with Trump team over coordinating coronavirus response,” Feb. 26, 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Transcript for the CDC Telebriefing Update on COVID-19,” Feb. 26, 2020.

Politico, “Trump puts Pence in charge of coronavirus response,” Feb. 26, 2020.

Politico, “White House announces coronavirus ‘coordinator’ to lead response under Pence,” Feb. 27, 2020.

The White House press launch, “Vice President Pence Announces Ambassador Debbie Birx to Serve as the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator,” Feb. 27, 2020.

KHN Morning Briefing, “Trump To Assemble U.S. Task Force To Tackle Coronavirus; Top Health Officials Reiterate Americans Are At Low Risk,” Jan. 30, 2020.

Victoria Knight:”>, @victoriaregisk

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