Fact 1: The overwhelming majority of people do not have any significant risk of dying from COVID-19.
The recent Stanford University antibody study now estimates that the fatality rate if infected is likely 0.1 to 0.2 percent, a risk far lower than previous World Health Organization estimates that were 20 to 30 times higher and that motivated isolation policies.
In New York City, an epicenter of the pandemic with more than one-third of all U.S. deaths, the rate of death for people 18 to 45 years old is 0.01 percent, or 11 per 100,000 in the population. On the other hand, people aged 75 and over have a death rate 80 times that. For people under 18 years old, the rate of death is zero per 100,000.
Of all fatal cases in New York state, two-thirds were in patients over 70 years of age; more than 95 percent were over 50 years of age; and about 90 percent of all fatal cases had an underlying illness. Of 6,570 confirmed COVID-19 deaths fully investigated for underlying conditions to date, 6,520, or 99.2 percent, had an underlying illness. If you do not already have an underlying chronic condition, your chances of dying are small, regardless of age. And young adults and children in normal health have almost no risk of any serious illness from COVID-19.
Fact 2: Protecting older, at-risk people eliminates hospital overcrowding.
We can learn about hospital utilization from data from New York City, the hotbed of COVID-19 with more than 34,600 hospitalizations to date. For those under 18 years of age, hospitalization from the virus is 0.01 percent per 100,000 people; for those 18 to 44 years old, hospitalization is 0.1 percent per 100,000.
Even for people ages 65 to 74, only 1.7 percent were hospitalized. Of 4,103 confirmed COVID-19 patients with symptoms bad enough to seek medical care, Dr. Leora Horwitz of NYU Medical Center concluded “age is far and away the strongest risk factor for hospitalization.” Even early WHO reports noted that 80 percent of all cases were mild, and more recent studies show a far more widespread rate of infection and lower rate of serious illness. Half of all people testing positive for infection have no symptoms at all. The vast majority of younger, otherwise healthy people do not need significant medical care if they catch this infection.
Fact 3: Vital population immunity is prevented by total isolation policies, prolonging the problem.
We know from decades of medical science that infection itself allows people to generate an immune response — antibodies — so that the infection is controlled throughout the population by “herd immunity.” Indeed, that is the main purpose of widespread immunization in other viral diseases — to assist with population immunity. In this virus, we know that medical care is not even necessary for the vast majority of people who are infected. It is so mild that half of infected people are asymptomatic, shown in early data from the Diamond Princess ship, and then in Iceland and Italy.
That has been falsely portrayed as a problem requiring mass isolation. In fact, infected people without severe illness are the immediately available vehicle for establishing widespread immunity. By transmitting the virus to others in the low-risk group who then generate antibodies, they block the network of pathways toward the most vulnerable people, ultimately ending the threat. Extending whole-population isolation would directly prevent that widespread immunity from developing.