An article in the Washington Post, explains some things about the comparison of COVID-19 to the flu. There’s a more accurate way to compare coronavirus deaths to the flu (by Christopher Ingraham May 2, 2020) explains that flu deaths are estimated based on confirmed reports. The confirmed reports are much, much lower, as a result, than the number of flu deaths the CDC reports.
As an example, he author cites to the 2018-2019 numbers published by the CDC. Confirmed flu deaths were 7,172 , from which the CDC estimated between 26,339 and 52,664 deaths for the year. They do this, apparently, to account for what epidemiologists believe is a sever under-count in the confirmed deaths.
(If you want to know how this works, you can refer to the abstract, Estimating influenza disease burden from population-based surveillance data in the United States, published March 4, 2015.)
Does anyone see an issue with this in light of what we are learning about the reporting of COVID-19 deaths per the CDC guidelines?
The writer cited to the 63,259 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 (as of May 2, 2020), and speculates that estimating COVID-19 deaths in the same way would result in a number that is “a full order of magnitude” more than the estimated flu deaths. (Today, as of this writing, there are now 87,841 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the US according to the Johns Hopkins Resource Center.)
The author says the comparison “gets complicated as soon as you realize that flu mortality is not reported as a tally but as an estimated range, which is far different from the individual counts, based on testing and diagnoses, used for COVID-19”. He assumes, as well, that “COVID-19 deaths are probably underestimated”.
But are they? Someone would have to compare the CDC guidelines for reporting flu deaths and compare those guidelines for reporting COVID-19 deaths. I am not an expert in these things, so I will leave it to someone else, but I will address the way COVID deaths are reported below.
The author goes on to highlight how tricky it is to do the comparison. People usually cherry pick the figures that seem right to them: the figures that support what they feel is correct. What else is a non-expert in these things to do?
Thus, the author says, we should trust the experts. When the experts don’t agree, we should trust the consensus. That’s science, right?
More or less, that’s true, but we have a crisis of trust right now that is being exposed by the current epidemic. “Science” or not, people don’t trust the experts. We can speculate all kinds of things about the psychology and sociology of “those people” who don’t trust the experts, but I see some reason to be legitimately concerned, even without giving any credence to crazy conspiracy theories.