COVID-19 has caught the headlines, and for good reason. According to the WHO, there have been 109,577 confirmed cases (3993 new on 9 Mar 2020) and 3809 deaths (225 new as of 9 Mar 2020) The stock market has plunged. Sporting events have been halted all over Italy. And the rise of cases has been dramatic.
People have the right to be concerned. At the same time, one should put the risk in some context. Let’s look at the leading causes of death worldwide. If you take all COVID-19 deaths (3809) and assume they all occurred in March, then the number of deaths per day would be 423. Based on this number, COVID-19 in March was the 26th highest cause of death in the world. This ranks far behind cardiovascular death, cancer, and respiratory disease. It even ranks behind less common causes of death like drowning, homicide and suicide and road injuries. If we use the 225 people who died in the past day, it would rank 29th, just ahead of poisoning. Even in China, COVID-19 would not rank as one of the top 10 causes of death.
This is not to say that one should not take COVID-19 seriously. Although the risk of death from respiratory disease and dimension is high overall, it may be fairly low for children and adults and COVID-19’s risk to may be higher to these populations (although in an absolute sense, the old and those with comorbidities are at much higher risk of death from COVID-19). Unlike, the majority of the diseases above, COVID-19 is a contagious disease and there are behaviors (especially hand washing) that can prevent COVID-19.
In short, people are right to be concerned with COVID-19. However, it is important to consider the magnitude of this crisis in context.