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Influenza vs COVID-19; Numbers show stark difference in lethality

“Liberate Michigan.” That was the battle cry of protesters who recently descended on the state Capitol to voice their displeasure — and that’s putting it mildly — with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, which has shuttered businesses and schools.

It’s important to consider a few things before a true “liberation” is even considered.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that from Oct. 1 to April 4, which is the typical flu season, there were 39 to 56 million flu illnesses in the United States, with 24,000 to 62,000 deaths.

Compare this with COVID-19 nationwide, with cases approaching 1.2 million as of Tuesday and deaths totaling more than 69,000, according to Johns Hopkins University. Keep in mind, though, that COVID-19 hasn’t been tracked as long and it appears to be a lot deadlier than the “plain old flu,” which is not fun to have anyway.

It also is a new virus, which means no vaccine is available yet and people don’t have immunity. It also could mutate, with indications this already is happening.

And it appears the crisis will get worse. According to The Washington Post, a draft government report projects COVID-19 deaths in the United States will rise to more than 3,000 a day by June 1, with new cases increasing to about 200,000 daily.

Marquette County Medical Director Dr. Kevin Piggott told The Mining Journal that the county’s recent flu season was typical. However, recent times have been anything but typical with the ongoing COVID-19 threat.

Piggott stressed that the regular flu and COVID-19 can’t necessarily be compared because they are different illnesses.

In fact, the World Health Organization said it appears mortality for COVID-19 appears to be higher than influenza, especially seasonal influenza. Although it acknowledged it will take some time to fully understand the situation, data indicates the crude mortality ratio — the number of reported deaths divided by the reported cases — is between 3 and 4%. The infection mortality rate — the number of reported deaths divided by the number of infections — will be lower.

For the seasonal flu, the WHO said mortality usually is well below 0.1%, although mortality is largely determined by access to and the quality of health care.

We understand that people want to get back to their jobs, movie theaters, restaurants, etc. We understand that people are anxious to resume their normal lives. However, we want people to have normal lives to resume. If COVID-19 is not taken seriously, there could be terrible consequences.

Watching the numbers, taking personal precautions such as wearing face masks and engaging in social distancing, and reopening businesses — slowly and with much thought — need to happen before Michigan can be liberated yet.

There’s a lot to be said for individual rights and liberties, but a measured, temporary approach is the best way to handle the COVID-19 pandemic.

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