CDC's worst case estimate of ONLY 1% coronavirus patients dying doesn't reflect ground reality, says expert

The current numbers released by the CDC underestimate fatality by a substantial margin compared to current scientific consensus, they say


                            CDC's worst case estimate of ONLY 1% coronavirus patients dying doesn't reflect ground reality, says expert
(Getty Images)

About 35% of Americans with Covid-19 contract the disease without showing any symptoms. And about 0.4% of those who show signs of the disease die. These are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) numbers on the virus spread and disease severity in the US, collected before April 29. The numbers, which will feed into decision making and research, are the agency's "best estimate" of the situation in the country. But not everyone is convinced.  One expert thinks the estimates on the death rate do not reflect the ground situation. They underestimate fatality by a substantial margin compared to current scientific consensus, and this is deeply problematic, biologist Carl Bergstrom of the University of Washington, tells CNN. The CDC, however, adds that they will update and improve the estimate in the coming days as more data begins to pour in, helping researchers understand the disease better.

What are CDC's estimates saying?

According to their best current estimates, Covid-19 kills 0.4% of those who show symptoms of the disease. For those below 45, the death rate drops to 0.05%. It jumps to 1.3% for people aged 65 and above. The federal health agency has put out estimates to describe different scenarios. In the worst-case, they estimate 1% of patients with symptoms are dying. By contrast, their least damage case puts the same fatality rate at 0.2%.

As of writing, the US has seen around 1.6 million cases, with 96,007 fatalities, according to the Johns Hopkins tracker.

The CDC has put out estimates to describe different scenarios. (Getty Images)

As for hospitalization rate, 3.4% of those with symptoms end up in hospitals. The worst-case puts the estimate at 4.1% and the least-case at 2.8%. For those over 65, their best-estimate says 7.4% of them need hospitalization. Covid-19 brutally affects older people. Patients over 65 years, on average, spend ten days in critical care. Nearly 27% of those admitted in ICU's are the elderly, and 75% of them require breathing support.

On average, people take about six days to show signs of the disease. The CDC says that 40% of the transmission happens before people realize they are sick.

Death rate estimates do not bring out the true picture

According to Bergstrom, most of these numbers are reasonable - barring the mortality rates. They are far too low and do not match the reality. "Estimates of the numbers infected in places like NYC are way out of line with these estimates. Let us remember that the number of deaths in NYC right now is far more than we would expect if every adult and child in the city had been infected with a flu-like virus. This is not the flu. It is COVID," Bergstrom tells CNN.

He explains that when it comes to death rates, one mostly considers worse scenarios. "But the CDC's 'best estimate' is extremely optimistic, and the 'worst case' scenario is fairly optimistic even as a best estimate. By introducing these as the official parameter sets for modeling efforts, CDC is influencing the models produced by federal agencies, but also the broader scientific discourse because there will be some pressure to use the CDC standard parameter sets in modeling papers going forward," he adds.

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