Fact Check: It Is NOT Known Whether Novel Coronavirus Has A Survival Rate Of 99.7%

Fact Check

  • by: Ryan Cooper
Fact Check: It Is NOT Known Whether Novel Coronavirus Has A Survival Rate Of 99.7%

Does a graphic being widely shared on social media accurately represent the survival rate of the novel coronavirus at 99.7%? No, that's not true: Scientists do not know precisely how many people survive or recover from the virus versus how many people will die from it.

The post is sharing a lot of misleading data without offering any sourcing to back up the numbers. Leading health organizations have preliminary estimates on the reproduction rate (r0) of the novel coronavirus, but there are still many unknowns. This post purports to be stating facts, but it is effectively trying to downplay the severity of the outbreak.

The claim originated from a post (archived here) published by Jen Largent-Farnam on March 1, 2020. It opened:

#Coronavirus has a contagion factor of 2. SARS was 4.
Measles is 18.
#Coronavirus has a cure rate of 99.7% for those under 50 it infects.
#Coronavirus spread is leveling off.

This is a viral-pneumonia being hyped as The Black Plague before an election.

Users on social media only saw this:

The post claimed to be sharing facts, but the user offered no source material for any of these claims. In the comments section, other users repeatedly pressed the poster for sourcing and citations. Largent-Farnam said she got the information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Screen Shot 2020-03-05 at 11.39.24 AM.png

Her claim that she retrieved the data from the CDC website is inaccurate. The CDC offers this disclaimer on the top of its page dedicated to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19:

COVID-19 is a new disease and we are still learning how it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, and to what extent it may spread in the United States.

Largent-Farnam's post suggested that the novel coronavirus is less contagious than SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. That may be true, but there are still many unknowns, as scientists discover more information about how the new coronavirus spreads.

One way to determine how infectious a disease might be is with the "R naught" (r0) rate. According to the University of Minnesota:

The r0 is another way of saying how infectious a disease is, as it offers an average of how many people a single person can infect with a virus. If the r0 is less than 1, an outbreak dies; if the average is greater than one, it spreads. Highly infectious viruses, such as measles, have r0s between 10 and 20. The SARS outbreak in 2003 had an r0 of around 3.

According to Business Insider, scientists do not currently agree on what that r0 rate is for the novel coronavirus. On January 23, 2020, the World Health Organization estimated the preliminary r0 to be between 1.4 and 2.5. Researchers at Lancaster University initially put the number at 3.8 but revised it down to 2.5. Meanwhile, doctors in China estimated the r0 was between 3.3 and 5.47.

As researchers learn more about the novel coronavirus, these numbers will continue to shift. At a news conference on March 3, 2020, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, said:

Globally, about 3.4 percent of reported Covid-19 cases have died.

The New York Times reported that the figure did not include "mild cases that were not detected because people did not seek medical attention." According to the newspaper:

The extent and mortality of the epidemic will not be known with great accuracy until a reliable test is developed for the antibodies present in people who have been infected, and that test is administered to large numbers of people.

Another claim on the meme that is false pertains to the cure rate. There is no known cure or vaccine for the novel coronavirus, though laboratories around the world are racing against the clock to create one. Some labs believe they have made some promising findings, but they won't move into the human testing phase until next month at the earliest. That means a vaccine could be a year or more away. There is currently no definitive data about how many people who become infected will survive the current outbreak.

Lastly, the poster claimed the novel coronavirus is nothing more than viral pneumonia that is being hyped as a "Black Plague" in an election year. This effort to downplay concerns about the threat of the novel coronavirus is potentially dangerous. Viral pneumonia cannot be treated by antibiotics, but that treatment does work for the bubonic plague, which is not nearly as fatal as it once was.

As of March 5, 2020, at least 3,000 people around the world have died from the novel coronavirus, and there are more than 90,000 cases, according to The New York Times. The outbreak has prompted airlines to cancel routes, forced some schools to close, and caused global stock markets to tumble.

There is a lot of misinformation online about the novel coronavirus. Here are some other fact checks by Lead Stories:

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.

  Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper, a staff writer and fact-checker for Lead Stories, is the former Director of Programming at CNN International, where he helped shape the network's daily newscasts broadcast to more than 280 million households around the world. He was based at the network's Los Angeles Bureau. There, he managed the team responsible for a three-hour nightly program, Newsroom LA.

Formerly, he worked at the headquarters in Atlanta, and he spent four years at the London bureau. An award-winning producer, Cooper oversaw the network's Emmy Award-winning coverage of the uprising in Egypt in 2011. He also served as a supervising producer during much of the network's live reporting on the Israel-Hezbollah conflict in 2006, for which CNN received an Edward R. Murrow Award.

Read more about or contact Ryan Cooper

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