Been following this since January and have consumed quite a few science journals and listened to various experts and here is what I believe to be true at this time: (links at the bottom)
Comparisons with the seasonal flu are useful because it transmits and affects people in similar ways but there are several factors that make Covid-19 far worse than the seasonal flu. Case Fatality Rate (CFR) is much higher, as much as 10-20x higher. Transmission rate (R0) is also much higher. Plus, a large percentage of people are asymptomatic, and while a person is asymptomatic, their levels of the virus are 1000 times higher than seen with seasonal flu, so they are super infectious even at this stage. On top of that, 20% of cases are infectious but never develop symptoms at all so it is really not obvious to people that they have come into contact with someone with the virus.
Like the seasonal flu, it will eventually affect most of the population. The WHO are saying 40-70%. So most of us will come into contact at some point. It seems inevitable.
CFR is really based on age and underlying levels of health or the presence of other conditions. Very low for children and very high in the elderly, smokers, or those with other threatening conditions. This is referred to as a death rate in the table below but they are actually case fatalities and is not the true death rate from the virus. This is an important distinction. Cases are people that have been presented to the authorities, probably tested positive and are counted as a case that will be tracked. There are only two outcomes to a case, recovery and back to their normal life or death. But many more people may not be coming forward as 80% of cases have mild or no symptoms. However all the authorities that I follow stress that the numbers are low and that there are many more people with the virus that are not being counted. Even the WHO has said 10x as many people. Again, the numbers below are the case fatality rate, not the overall death rate. You should divide these numbers by 10 at least to get the death rate from the virus. In comparison, 900,000 people were hospitalized last year in the USA for influenza and 80,000 died. And it was a bad year, as the numbers are usually half of that.
Extreme measures like we saw in China have flattened the curve and brought the R0 way down. Yet these levels of isolation or lockdown are not sustainable for long so it will just slow the transmission for a while. Of course, it is important to slow it down, flatten the curve as they say, because otherwise, our health care facilities will be overwhelmed and unable to handle those that need medical intervention the most. Some 20% of those infected need intensive care facilities and without proper equipment such as oxygen and respirators, 25% of those will die. (at a 5% average CFR). Intervention can and will allow more people to survive. This is what our governments should be focused on. The proper care, equipment and facilities for those patients in the ICU.
Taking precautions and being prepared are useful but not likely going to prevent you from coming into contact with the virus. The principle vector is breathing. Hand washing alone has been shown to have zero affect when clinically studied. (link below) But surgical masks were never designed to control breathing-in so only a full kit such as n95 particulate masks, face shields and Tyvec outer clothing are required. Given the limited supply, it seems more prudent to leave those devices to the front line workers as their safety is paramount and they have the training.
Better precautions are being able to self isolate as much as possible, and having enough food supplies to reduce or eliminate your trips to the supermarket.
The best precaution is to do whatever you can to improve your immunity system and stay healthy. Reduce stress, get more sleep, choose better nutrition. Because at this point, 80% of people will experience mild or no symptoms which suggests a healthy life style is still your best option and there is no reason to panic.
I also just learned that NSAIDs are causing serious complications for those with the virus so it would appear that none of them, except for possibly Tylenol, should be taken to reduce symptoms. And there is good evidence that even Tylenol should not be taken to reduce the fever. Fever is good.
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JAMA – Clinical Characteristics of 138 Hospitalized Patients With 2019 Novel Coronavirus–Infected Pneumonia in Wuhan, China 25% required ICU, 20% had ARDS, 4.3% died. Those requiring ICU had underlying condition.