COVID-19: How bad is it?

Posted: March 15, 2020 in COVID-19
Tags: , ,

Based on evaluation of 72,000 patients in China: 

  • “Mild” symptoms ~81%
    • “Mild” just means NOT HOSPITALIZED
    • People can still be very sick for up to 14 days
  • Serious illness: ~14%
    • Serious illness means requires hospitalization
    • Serious often occurs in the second week
    • Serious sometimes happens after initial improvement
  • Critically ill: ~5%
    • Criticallly ill requires intensive care, often on a ventilator
  • Fatality rate: ~2.3%
    • < 1% below age 70
    • 8% between age 70 and 79
    • 14.8% if age 80 or above

This doesn’t seem very bad on first review, but there are two very scary things about COVID-19:

1) High need for hospitalization – much higher than most viruses

  • Almost 20% of COVID-19 patients need hospitalization
    • Compare to seasonal flu which hospitalizes ~1% of patients
  • One quarter of these need intensive care and ventilators to survive

2) Rapid increase in case numbers

Days into clusterNumber of cases
Growth of COVID-19 from a single case


  • COVID-19 shows exponential growth:
    • Start low, grow slow, then increase rapidly
    • Cases double roughly every 5 days (without social distancing)


Imagine just 1% of the United States with COVID-19 = 3.27 million cases

  • If 5% get critically ill (same as China) = 163,500 people require intensive care
  • United States intensive care beds = 94,000
    • Nearly half are already occupied with heart attack, pneumonia, trauma, etc.
  • If COVID-19 cases fill the remaining beds:
    • Seriously ill and critically ill patients COVID-19 cases will not receive care.
    • People who need hospital care for other reasons will also be turned away.
      • Heart attacks, pneumonia, stroke, car accidents, trauma
    • Care will happen at home, in hospital hallways, in tents, in sports arenas…
    • People will suffer (and perhaps die) without medication, oxygen, or nursing
    • Fatality rates from COVID-19 will increase significantly above 2.3%
    • Fatality from other treatable illnesses will also increase



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