The seasonal flu has killed about 20,000 people in the U.S. alone after infecting 30 million. That’s a completely different category than the coronavirus COVID-19, which has killed 21 people in the U.S. with 529 infected. With such a low number of infections and deaths, it might seem the concern is out of control.
But it’s all about transmitting the disease and the eventual death rate.
As Justin Fox explains at Bloomberg News, COVID-19 kills somewhere between 1% and 4% of the people who catch it. That’s a lot less than ebola, which kills 50%, but it’s between 10 and 40 times greater than the death rate of the seasonal flu, so it’s definitely serious.
As for transmitting the disease, many viruses can be spread only within a few days before symptoms appear, or even less than a day. It looks like people can have, and transmit, COVID-19 for many days before they show symptoms, and that’s the problem.
If the virus begins to spread across the U.S., then many more people who catch it than those who get the flu will end up in the hospital. If we ended up with a bad outbreak that approached the numbers of the terrible flu season of 2017-2018, we could have between four and eight million people in the hospital, which would overwhelm our system because we only have 924,000 staffed hospital beds. As for deaths, they would range from 300,000 to 600,000, a very sobering range.