People are comparing COVID-19 deaths to the flu. Here's why it doesn't work.

As countries around the world pay rapt attention to the rising number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths from COVID-19, some confusion about the mathematics of it all keep floating around.

I've seen countless comments from people who say things like:

"The virus has only killed 20,000 people. The seasonal flu kills 60,000 people each year and we don't shut the country down for that!"

"Far more Americans die of flu/cancer/heart disease/etc. than will die from COVID-19 this year. Why aren't we shutting down the economy for those things?"


The idea that the coronavirus isn't markedly different or worse than the seasonal flu got an early hold in some people's consciousness when the virus first emerged. Part of the problem is that the virality and mortality of the virus hasn't been totally clear. Even Dr. Fauci and colleagues wrote an editorial published February 28 in the New England Journal of Medicine stating that the coronavirus death rates "may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza (which has a case fatality rate of approximately 0.1%) or a pandemic influenza."

However, with a novel virus, things change quickly and experts' knowledge and understanding change along with it. As we saw numbers begin to emerge from around the world, it became clear that this virus is more contagious and far deadlier than the seasonal flu. Dr. Fauci stated in an interview with Trevor Noah on March 26 that the coronavirus was actually at least twice as contagious and ten times as deadly as the seasonal flu. Though death rates vary widely by country so far, and we won't have a clear picture of that rate for quite some time, it's clear that this isn't your average flu.

Additionally, normal flu seasons vary in severity, but the flu is largely a known quantity. We know there will be flu strains, and epidemiologists construct a vaccine each year based on their most informed guess as to which strains will be circulating the most. So we have vaccines and we have treatments to lessen flu severity, such as Tamiflu. And since flu-related deaths happen fairly evenly throughout flu season, our hospital system doesn't get overwhelmed by them.

Let's hold that thought about overwhelmed hospitals while we look at the other comment about various causes of death.

Yes, based on the numbers of deaths we've seen so far, more Americans die of things other than coronavirus each year. But there are some big "buts" here. Most of those causes of death are not communicable diseases. If shutting down the country for a period of time was guaranteed to save people's lives from heart disease or cancer, I'm sure we'd do that. But we are already doing what we can to try to reduce deaths from things like heart disease, cancer, car accidents, and the seasonal flu.

A viral pandemic gone unchecked is an entirely different beast. We have been watching both the case numbers and the death numbers rise dramatically, even after enacting social distancing and locking down the country.

This chart shows a daily visualization of the increase in COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. compared to the average daily deaths from various causes from March 1 to April 18, 2020. GIve it 10 seconds or so, since the virus deaths start off slow, but then really start really taking off after March 20.

By April 8, you can see that the virus's daily death toll overtakes every other cause of death in America.

This is called exponential growth. I've seen people say that coronavirus has killed 20,000 Americans in four months, making it sound like it was an average of 5,000 per month, but that's not how this works. In January, we had no deaths. In February, just a few. By March 26, we had 1,000. Less than 3 weeks later, we're at around 22,000. That's what we mean by exponential growth. No other cause of death does that.

And again, this is with mitigation measures in place for the past month. Imagine what it would look like if we'd kept up business as usual during the past few weeks and let the virus spread unchecked. This kind of exponential growth in deaths is exactly why nations around the globe have shut down businesses and enacted social distancing guidelines.

This is not the seasonal flu. We don't have a vaccine for this. We don't have a cure for this. We don't even have a sure-fire, reliable treatment for this.

The problem is that people see that numbers are not exploding as much as some models indicated they would and think "Oh, this has all been overblown!" They're only seeing some overwhelmed hospitals in select areas and think that means all of the widespread preparations and shutdowns weren't necessary. But that notion ignores the fact that the initial models provided an estimate for what would happen if we didn't shut the country down, which was an absolutely catastrophic outcome with millions of deaths. Without these "extreme" measures, the death toll would be far higher, and more hospitals would be out of beds and ventilators. And it's hard to predict beforehand where a big outbreak might spring up.

And we're not even close to out of the woods yet. Our case and death numbers are still climbing, though experts indicate that we may be at a peak where we might plateau for a while.

But the bottom line is that this virus is not like something we've seen before. The death numbers we've seen so far can't be compared to anything else. And we need to keep on doing what we're doing to keep those exponential numbers under control.





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A lot of people here are like family to me," Michelle says about Bread for the City — a community nonprofit located in Washington DC that provides local residents with food, clothing, health care, social advocacy, and legal services. And since the pandemic began, the need to support organizations like Bread for the City is greater than ever, which is why Amazon is Delivering Smiles to local charities across the country this holiday season.

Watch the full story:

Amazon is giving back by fulfilling hundreds of AmazonSmile Charity Lists, and donating essential pantry and food items to help organizations like Bread for the City provide to those disproportionately impacted this year.

Visit AmazonSmile Charity Lists to donate directly to a local charity in your community, or simply shop smile.amazon.com and Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price of eligible products to your charity of choice.
Courtesy of Macy's

Brantley and his snowman

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"Would you like to build a snowman?" If you asked five-year-old Brantley from Texas this question, the answer would be a resounding "Yes!" While it may sound like a simple dream, since Texas doesn't usually see much snow, it seemed like a lofty one for him, even more so because Brantley has a congenital heart disease.

On Dec. 11, 2019, however, the real Macy's Santa and his two elves teamed up with Make-A-Wish to surprise Brantley and his family on his way to Colorado where there was plenty of snow for him to build his very own snowman, fulfilling his wish as part of the Macy's Believe campaign. After a joy-filled plane ride where every passenger got gift bags from Macy's, the family arrived in Breckenridge, Colorado where Santa and his elves helped Brantley build a snowman.

Brantley, Brantley's mom, and Santa marveling at their snowmanAll photos courtesy of Macy's

Brantley, who according to his mom had never actually seen snow, was blown away by the experience.

"Well, I had to build a snowman because snowmen are my favorite," Brantley said in an interview with Summit Daily. "All of it was my favorite part."

This is just one example of the more than 330,000 wishes the nonprofit Make-A-Wish have fulfilled to bring joy to children fighting critical illnesses since its founding 40 years ago. Even though many of the children that Make-A-Wish grants wishes for manage or overcome their illnesses, they often face months, if not years of doctor's visits, hospital stays and uncomfortable treatments. The nonprofit helps these children and their families replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy and anxiety with hope.

It's hardly an outlandish notion — research shows that a wish come true can help increase these children's resiliency and improve their quality of life. Brantley is a prime example.

"This couldn't have come at a better time because we see all the hardships that we went through last year," Brantley's mom Brandi told Summit Daily.

Brantley playing with snowballs

Now more than ever, kids with critical illnesses need hope. Since they're particularly vulnerable to disease, they and their families have had to isolate even more during the pandemic and avoid the people they love most and many of the activities that recharge them. That's why Make-A-Wish is doing everything it can to fulfill wishes in spite of the unprecedented obstacles.

That's where you come in. Macy's has raised over $132 million for Make-A-Wish, and helped grant more than 15,500 wishes since their partnership began in 2003, but they couldn't have done that without the support of everyday people. The crux of that support comes from Macy's Believe Campaign — the longstanding holiday fundraising effort where for every letter to Santa that's written online at Macys.com or dropped off safely at the red Believe mailbox at their stores, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. New this year, National Believe Day will be expanded to National Believe Week and will provide customers the opportunity to double their donations ($2 per letter, up to an additional $1 million) for a full week from Sunday, Nov. 29 through Saturday, Dec. 5.

There are more ways to support Make-A-Wish besides letter-writing too. If you purchase a $4 Believe bracelet, $2 of each bracelet will be donated to Make-A-Wish through Dec. 31. And for families who are all about the holiday PJs, on Giving Tuesday (Dec. 1), 20 percent of the purchase price of select family pajamas will benefit Make-A-Wish.

Elizabeth living out her wish of being a fashion designer

Additionally, this year's campaign features 6-year-old Elizabeth, a Make-A-Wish child diagnosed with leukemia, whose wish to design a dress recently came true. Thanks to the style experts at Macy's Fashion Office and I.N.C. International Concepts, only at Macy's, Elizabeth had the opportunity to design a colorful floral maxi dress. Elizabeth's exclusive design is now available online at Macys.com and in select Macy's stores. In the spirit of giving back this holiday season, 20 percent of the purchase price of Elizabeth's dress (through Dec. 31) will benefit Make-A-Wish.You can also donate directly to Make-A-Wish via Macy's website.

This holiday season may be a tough one this year, but you can bring joy to children fighting critical illnesses by delivering hope for their wishes to come true.

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A lot of people here are like family to me," Michelle says about Bread for the City — a community nonprofit located in Washington DC that provides local residents with food, clothing, health care, social advocacy, and legal services. And since the pandemic began, the need to support organizations like Bread for the City is greater than ever, which is why Amazon is Delivering Smiles to local charities across the country this holiday season.

Watch the full story:

Amazon is giving back by fulfilling hundreds of AmazonSmile Charity Lists, and donating essential pantry and food items to help organizations like Bread for the City provide to those disproportionately impacted this year.

Visit AmazonSmile Charity Lists to donate directly to a local charity in your community, or simply shop smile.amazon.com and Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price of eligible products to your charity of choice.
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