Let’s admit it, we are deadly afraid to know some facts, although some of them must be said. Consciousness can save the masses. With this in mind, we have to face the deadly statistics of the new coronavirus. The crucial question is: What’s the risk of dying of COVID-19? What about me and the other members of my community? As on 6th March 2020, statistically, the actual risk of a young and healthy adult dying because of coronavirus is rather low. However, it doesn’t mean that there is nothing to worry about! The media across countries and heads of parliament wouldn’t be so alarmed if the issue was trivial.
If you are a healthy individual, but not so young anymore, the risk is somewhat higher. The worst-case scenario to catch coronavirus is when your age is advanced, and you already suffer from chronic diseases. You should be aware of the serious threat, and do everything to limit any outside contact. Funny fact, the possibility of catching and dying of the COVID-19, being a young and healthy adult, is probably below the risk of accidental death from something else. But there is a much bigger threat in this story – the risk of inadvertently catching and passing the virus along. This epidemic sets social responsibility. We have to work together and care for each other. It’s the message that the world sends us – we have to cooperate! As a result – canceling large gatherings saves lives. If not ours, then those of other people.
Let’s get to numbers, hoping that it will give us the estimated idea of what we are talking about. A rough order-of-magnitude estimate of your risk of contracting the COVID-19 coronavirus depends on where you live, and how many cases are around you. If you take into consideration your age and pre-existing conditions, you can calculate the risk of the disease being lethal for you. The same with passing it along. So how many people around you are you saving from death by staying at home? It can be estimated as well! Mind that these are rough order-of-magnitude estimations. There are no obvious and sure answers nowadays, and the situation with COVID-19 changes every day.
What’s my risk of catching the coronavirus? First, you need to estimate the number of people that have been infected in your region. For example, in the Seattle area, Trevor Bedford counted 570 individuals infected as of March 1, with a mean epidemic doubling time of 6.1 days. This gives us an estimate of 1000 cases on March 5. Every case is different, but this is how you count it. Now, get to know the general number of people in our region. Continuing with the same example, the greater Seattle metro area has a population of 4M. Apparently, 1 in 4000 (1000/4M) individuals in our region are likely infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus. Pretty simple, isn’t it? Also, quite comforting at this point.
But the story doesn’t finish here. The reproductive number of the virus is another issue. How many people are infected by each previous infection? The so-called R0 (the baseline infectivity without intervention) for this coronavirus is approximately 2.3, whereas with interventions (washing your hands, avoiding crowds, etc.) it can be brought below 1. Interventions gradually bring the epidemic to a halt. If in the above-mentioned society, 1 in 4000 people are infected today, but each of them infects 2 people, over the next approximately 4 days (a single viral generation), this rate is about 1 in 2000.
What about the risk of death? The Infection Fatality Rate depends on both the characteristics of the virus and how overloaded the local healthcare system is. The US healthcare system is not yet overloaded at this point. In general, if you’re a young adult with COVID-19, and the healthcare system in your country is doing well, your chance of dying is 1 in 1000. If you’re older or hold a preexisting condition (it doubles the risk for your age group), you need to measure your death rate accordingly. What about the normal risks of accidental death? How do these two compare? As for a young and healthy person who lives in Seattle, COVID-19-related death is about eight times lower than the risk of accidental death from all other possible causes, for example, a daily commute.