If You Only Care About the Covid-19 Death Rate, You Are Missing the Big Picture

Frequently, when I’m browsing Facebook, I see friends post stories about the devastation of Covid-19. And then I see others posting comments like, “only 1% of people die from it” or “most of the people died from something else.” In addition to these anti-science statements being utterly heartless, they’re also missing the point.

If you say something like, “most people who died of Covid-19 actually died of something else,” that is like saying, “jumping off a building doesn’t kill you, only the ground at the end.” The fact is, many people who died also had non-fatal conditions, and if they hadn’t caught Covid-19, most would be alive. In the article I linked above, they make the point that HIV is not normally listed as a cause of death, but it kills your immune system, which makes you more susceptible to deadly diseases. Same thing with Covid-19.

To anyone who says, “but the death rate is low,” please stop ignoring the toll that this pandemic is having on our society. If people (and our government) took this seriously, things would not be this bad. Talking about a low death rate ignores the fact that some people have lost many friends and family to the pandemic. And it’s also a misleading talking point because it downplays the fact that even if the mortality rate is low, people are filling up the hospitals almost dying (were it not for the heroic efforts of our healthcare professionals) and many are surviving with long-term damage and an unknown future.

In fact, quoting a “low” death rate ignores the other issue: long-term effects from Covid-19. Multiple sources say at least 10% of survivors (including people with mild cases) have symptoms beyond 12 weeks, including fatigue, trouble breathing, and headaches. Other studies have shown heart and lung damage, and we don’t know if that is permanent or not. And we don’t know the long-term effects of having this virus in our systems; will it hide inside our bodies and come back like the chickenpox virus? In fact, studying patients who had SARS (another coronavirus from more than a decade ago), there were patients who had long-term effects at least up to 2 years.

a healthcare professional at the hospital helping a patient in bed

Some people have the attitude of, “I’m going to get it anyway, why not get it now and get it over with?” This is a bad take and here’s why: the longer you can go without getting Covid-19, the more we can find out about it, and the better treatments get. If you get sick because of your own negligence, you are not the only person affected! If you go to the hospital, every doctor and nurse works hard to take care of you, why can’t you think of them? Even if you stay sick at home, what about everyone you came in contact with before you had symptoms? If you think you are contributing to “herd immunity,” you are not–in fact you could be contributing to a faster mutation rate for the virus which could (eventually) render some vaccines less effective and potentially make the pandemic worse. Trying to get herd immunity “naturally” will overwhelm us before it even starts to kick in.

And while we’re talking about the Covid-19 death rate, we’re ignoring the fact that our hospitals are so overwhelmed that we are not taking care of other diseases and conditions. How many people are going to die sooner because they couldn’t get preventive care to diagnose their cancer at a treatable stage? How many people are going to have heart attacks but can’t get treated because the hospital is full? How many people are going to need treatment for non-Covid-related trauma but can’t reach a hospital with space in time?

I’m not saying that you need to stay completely inside until the pandemic is over. There is no way to live a risk-free life. And if we know anything from abstinence-only education, it’s that only telling people what NOT to do doesn’t help them make responsible choices. Please, if you need to leave your home (which everyone does at some point), wear your mask properly (over your nose!), wash your hands, and try to avoid crowds when possible. But don’t try to justify ignoring the real costs of this pandemic by only parroting the death-rate.

It is tone-deaf to talk about the death-rate of Covid-19 flippantly, as if 1% doesn’t represent millions of deaths. It also represents tens of millions of cases of untold damage, devastation of our healthcare system, and even more unnecessary deaths on top of the ones caused by this (preventable) pandemic.


Mary Brock works as an Immunology scientist by day and takes care of a pink-loving princess child by night. She likes cloudy days, crafting, cooking, and Fall weather in New England.

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  1. What really angers me are those that dishonestly or maliciously miscalculate the death rate in order to downplay COVID.

    1 By calculating a ratio then adding % at the end without multiplying by 100. Go back to middle school!

    2 Using the population as the denominator rather than infections. In this way you could show that cancer has a 99%+ survival rate!

    3 Ignoring the fact that this is not over yet. Few people really grok exponential growth. They should check out the Wheat and Chessboard Problem (the answer is over 1 trillion tons)

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