COVID-19 by the Numbers: How Bad Is It?

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As of 1 p.m., March 26, Washington, D.C., has confirmed that 235 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. There have been three deaths in the D.C. to date.

The area comprising Washington and the adjacent states of Maryland and Virginia has a combined total of 1,051 cases and 20 deaths. The United States as a whole has 69,210 cases and 1,046 deaths.

Globally, at 5 p.m., March 26, there are 525,297 cases and 23,701 deaths — with 123,329 who have recovered.

Those are the straight facts. But they don’t mean very much without context. To get some perspective and know how to react to them, the facts need to be accompanied by comparisons and percentages.

Here are some. 

The number of known positive cases is growing everywhere. On March 8, the Rev. Tim Cole of Christ Church, Georgetown, was the first confirmed case in the District. Now, there are over 1,000 in D.C. and the neighboring states. That’s because there are more people being tested. 

But the determining factors in the severity of the disease are the number and percentage of deaths. In D.C., as of today, the mortality rate is under 1.5 percent (.013). The D.C. area has a mortality rate of a little under 2 percent (.019). 

The overall COVID-19 mortality rate in the United States is 1.5 percent, a rate that has held steady for weeks despite an exponentially growing number of cases.

Globally, the mortality rate appears to be 4.5 percent. Italy is a sad outlier with nearly a 9-percent mortality rate and the second highest number of cases in the world.

The goal of every public health official worldwide has been to “flatten the curve,” so to speak — to slow down the rate of infection to better manage treatment and keep hospitals from being overwhelmed. Almost every country in the world, at least in the northern hemisphere, is now practicing some form of social distancing for the general population, including restricting leaving the home except for grocery and medical supplies.   

Quarantine and isolation are mandated for those with symptoms — fever, coughing and shortness of breath — and possible contact with an infected person. Hospitals are being reserved for those with sky-high temperatures, severe problems breathing and in need of ventilators.

Is it working? Time will tell. But even as the numbers have increased over the past week, the rate of increase has slowed. Consider the numbers in the United States: on March 22, there were 16,400 new cases recorded; on March 25, 9,800.  

Attention is now turning to hot-spot areas like New York City, which is experiencing a doubling of cases every few days. There are others, to be sure, but there are parts of the U.S. that have reported almost nothing so far.

In Georgetown, there is evidence of full recovery from the infection. Rector Cole has now tested negative twice and is getting ready to return home. The church organist, Tom Smith, who had tested positive and self-isolated for 15 days, now has been released from quarantine. Neither the rector’s wife and son, nor hundreds of parishioners who had been exposed, caught the disease. 

“We can see that the vast majority of people who test positive for the virus will recover,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says repeatedly at his daily up-front-and-personal press briefings. “In addition, it is highly likely that those who have recovered, and the thousands who unknowingly have had it and recovered, now are immune.”

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