News and Commentary

Stanford Professors: Coronavirus Death Rate Estimate Likely ‘Orders Of Magnitude Too High’
Virus Epidemic Concept, Biotechnology Research Science - stock photo
Vaidas Bucys/EyeEm/Getty Images

On Tuesday, professors of medicine at Stanford University, Dr. Bendavid and Dr. Bhattacharya, released statistical data that shows the estimated death rates of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, are likely “orders of magnitude too high.”

Models that have been used by government officials project that million of Americans, 2.2-4 million, will perish from COVID-19 if no precautions are taken, peaking in June.

But after looking at data samples from places like Wuhan, China, where the virus originated, hard-hit northeast Italy, Iceland, and the United States, our nation may be looking at a .01 death rate, which is a ten-fold lower death rate than that of the flu and equating to some 20,000-40,000 deaths total, the study found.

“The true fatality rate is the portion of those infected who die, not the deaths from identified positive cases,” the doctors explained in the piece published at The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. “The latter rate is misleading because of selection bias in testing,” which “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,” the duo said. “That’s not only plausible but likely based on what we know so far.”

Focusing on Wuhan data, Dr. Bendavid and Dr. Bhattacharya said that just 0.9% of evacuees were infected from COVID-19.

“If this was the prevalence in the greater Wuhan area on Jan. 31, then, with a population of about 20 million, greater Wuhan had 178,000 infections, about 30-fold more than the number of reported cases,” they summarized, thus making the fatality rate “at least 10-fold lower than estimates based on reported cases.”

Here’s what they found in Northeast Italy, emphasis added:

Next, the northeastern Italian town of Vò, near the provincial capital of Padua. On March 6, all 3,300 people of Vò were tested, and 90 were positive, a prevalence of 2.7%. Applying that prevalence to the whole province (population 955,000), which had 198 reported cases, suggests there were actually 26,000 infections at that time. That’s more than 130-fold the number of actual reported cases. Since Italy’s case fatality rate of 8% is estimated using the confirmed cases, the real fatality rate could in fact be closer to 0.06%.

Looking at the U.S., Dr. Bendavid and Dr. Bhattacharya focused on the NBA to get a better sense of virus prevalence and its fatality rate.

“The best (albeit very weak) evidence in the U.S. comes from the National Basketball Association,” they wrote. “Between March 11 and 19, a substantial number of NBA players and teams received testing. By March 19, 10 out of 450 rostered players were positive. Since not everyone was tested, that represents a lower bound on the prevalence of 2.2%.”

“The NBA isn’t a representative population, and contact among players might have facilitated transmission,” the professors continued. “But if we extend that lower-bound assumption to cities with NBA teams (population 45 million), we get at least 990,000 infections in the U.S. The number of cases reported on March 19 in the U.S. was 13,677, more than 72-fold lower.”

“These numbers imply a fatality rate from Covid-19 orders of magnitude smaller than it appears,” Dr. Bendavid and Dr. Bhattacharya stated. The discrepancies from highly-cited epidemiological models is due to two factors, they explained:

First, the test used to identify cases doesn’t catch people who were infected and recovered. Second, testing rates were woefully low for a long time and typically reserved for the severely ill.

“Together, these facts imply that the confirmed cases are likely orders of magnitude less than the true number of infections,” said Dr. Bendavid and Dr. Bhattacharya, while epidemiological modelers have yet to adequately adapt their estimates to reflect these significant factors.

The virus is clearly highly transmissible, they explained, with the number of infections reportedly doubling every three days. “An epidemic seed on Jan. 1 implies that by March 9 about six million people in the U.S. would have been infected,” the doctors said. But as of March 23, CDC numbers showed there were 499 Covid-19 deaths in the nation.

“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,” the doctors noted. “This is one-tenth of the flu mortality rate of 0.1%. Such a low death rate would be cause for optimism.”

COVID-19 is not a “nonissue,” they warned, highlighting the strain it places on our medical system. They also underscore that we do not the true infection rate in the U.S., though recent developments are helping us get closer to accurately determining it.

The doctors conclude by suggesting that “universal quarantine may not be worth the costs it imposes on the economy, community and individual mental and physical health” and urging evaluation of the impact of the current lockdowns.

Related: Prevention Expert: Data Shows Our Fight Against Coronavirus May Be Worse Than The Disease

Got a tip worth investigating?

Your information could be the missing piece to an important story. Submit your tip today and make a difference.

Submit Tip
The Daily Wire   >  Read   >  Stanford Professors: Coronavirus Death Rate Estimate Likely ‘Orders Of Magnitude Too High’