Is COVID-19 more dangerous than influenza?

Yes. Without any doubt. Overall this year, CDC estimates that 32M people contracted influenza with 18,000 deaths (case fatality rate of 0.05%). The overall case fatality rate for COVID-19 appears to be about 3.4%, but even if it is only 1%, that is still about 20x higher than that for influenza. New reports suggest that children may experience serious infection as well.

Is COVID-19 more easily spread than influenza?

Yes. Each person infected with influenza will infect approximately 1.3 additional people (this is called the R0 - or "R-naught" rate). The R0 for COVID-10 is about 2.3 and while this does not seem like a large difference, it is.

Why is social distancing necessary for young healthy people?

The goal here is to "flatten the curve" and slow disease spread. Absent that, the illness will spread rapidly and overwhelm our healthcare system. 

How many people will be infected?

Unknown. Estimates range from a few dozen to 280 million in the United States. Since we're at about 1,300 as of 03/13/20, we know the low end estimate is very wrong. Let's hope the high end estimate is as well.

Will COVID-19 slow down with warmer temperatures?

Unknown. While transmission via hard surfaces (where it can survive for days) may slow with temperature, we don’t know if person-to-person spread may be affected.  So it may persist into summer despite warmer temperatures, and may move to the Southern Hemisphere, where it is cooler. In fall, it may return. Do not expect this to be entirely resolved by the fall of 2020, there are simply too many unknowns at this time.

When will a vaccine be available?

Unknown. Best estimates suggest that the soonest any vaccine might be available is early 2021.

China and South Korea seem fine. Can we do what they did?

Probably not. Both the Chinese and ROK governments took extreme action. And in China, the government unilaterally imposed and enforced a lockdown of several weeks in Hubei province. When that was first attempted in Italy, people went skiing or to the beach. Not in China. So, we will see western governments struggle with this but we do anticipate more school closings, event cancellations and other social distancing measures.

When will things return to "normal?"

Unknown. We anticipate significant disruptions to continue through the spring and early summer. As discussed above, it remains to be seen what will happen when warmer temperatures prevail.

How should I protect myself?

The most important steps are frequent hand washing and avoidance of infected individuals. No air travel unless absolutely necessary, no crowded places (movies, grocery store on Saturday afternoon, etc) and no social greetings (handshakes, hugs, etc). Be attentive to anyone near you with a cough, and avoid them.  In addition to avoiding crowds, maintain a distance of at least six feet from others when possible. If you must leave home, wash your hands or use alcohol hand gel after touching door handles, shopping carts, elevator buttons, etc.

We have established a dedicated page on our website where we will keep updated recommendations for patients, updated recommendations from CDC and WHO, and other important developments regarding COVID-2019. Feel free to bookmark the page for future reference and share with anyone who has questions.

Select this link for the latest updates to our recommendations for COVID-19.

An impressive interview with Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH

Posted by: Scott W. Yates, MD, MBA, MS, MH

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