President Donald Trump has frequently invoked comparisons of the flu while trying to downplay the need for social distancing in order to combat the spread of coronavirus.
“We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu. We don’t turn the country off — I mean, every year,” he said in March, citing an estimated 37,000 Americans who died of influenza during the last flu season (as of Monday morning, more than 40,000 have died of coronavirus in the U.S., with many more deaths expected).
Trump has tampered down his using of the flu to justify his calls for reopening the economy, but it’s a talking point that has stuck with his base of support. However, it’s also an argument that lacks much factual reasoning behind it.
Just this month, coronavirus became the second-highest cause of death in the United States, second only to heart disease (the two are neck-and-neck at the moment) and responsible for the deaths of 12,392 individuals from April 6 to the 12. For comparison, the flu was ranked ninth in terms of how many people died from it in the U.S., killing about 1,227 for that same period of time.
Some may argue that’s an apples-to-oranges comparison, however, since the bulk of the flu season is long past us, and we’re in the midst of coronavirus. But even comparing numbers between the two “seasons” gives us an indication that the flu is not as serious as coronavirus is.
The flu season typically lasts from October to April, but it tapers off ina significant way usually by the end of February. That’s about 21 weeks of the flu season, a modest estimation.
Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that between 24,000 and 62,000 died from the flu during the 2019-2020 season. For the sake of argument, let’s use the numbers from the higher end of that estimate, and use the lower number of weeks.
Sixty-two thousand deaths divided by 21 weeks is 2,952 deaths per week for the flu season. Nothing to dismiss, to be sure.
Yet coronavirus appears to be deadlier still. Consider that on March 1, only two deaths from coronavirus had been reported. That means the bulk of the deaths happened from that point on. Even if we remove those two deaths from the tally, that’s 40,677 that have died from coronavirus in just seven weeks’ time — totaling 5,811 deaths per week.
In other words, coronavirus appears to be 96 percent more deadly now than the flu was earlier this year.
Trump was lambasted for his comments about the flu, and perhaps rightfully so. Now, as protests begin calling for reopening the country (against the advice of health experts, no less), many are continuing to make the same mistakes he did by comparing the two diseases.
They are, however, incomparable — COVID-19 is much worse, statistically, than influenza is.
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Chris Walker is a freelance writer based out of Madison, Wisconsin. A millennial with more than a decade of journalism experience, Chris aims to provide readers with the latest and most accurate news of national importance. Chris likes to spend his free time doing activities in his community with his family.