Fact Check: The 99% COVID Survival Rate Is NOT Evidence Lockdowns Are About 'Control' Instead of Health

Fact Check

  • by: Dean Miller
Fact Check: The 99% COVID Survival Rate Is NOT Evidence Lockdowns Are About 'Control' Instead of Health 1% Can Be Big

Does the 99% COVID survival rate prove lockdowns are "no longer about health," but instead about government control? No, that's not true: A 1% fatality rate is not low for an infectious disease, public health experts point out. And, because COVID spreads easily from person to person -- even with some Americans wearing masks and following social distancing guidelines -- COVID has in 2020 killed roughly four times as many American as die in even a severe U.S. flu season, in which as many as 60,000 people have died in years past.

The claim that the COVID fatality rate is low enough to prove lockdowns aren't necessary appeared in a Facebook post (archived here) published on November 20, 2020, under the title "Dining Room Open." It went on to say:

We have come a long way these last 8 months in our knowledge and understanding of Covid-19 and while there is still a lot of 'opinions' about it the stats show the survivability rate is above 99.6%. This is no longer just about health, it is about control.

This is what the post, with the claim wording included in a restaurant's notice to its customers, looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Facebook screenshot

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Tue Nov 24 22:53:15 2020 UTC)

Prof. Ali Mokdad, the Ph.D. who generates the University of Washington's so-far-accurate estimates of the pandemic death toll, told Lead Stories in a November 23, 2020, email that even a fatality ratio of 0.6% has serious consequences:

Basically, since many of us are susceptible to this virus, even at 0.6% it means many deaths.

Mokdad is a professor of health metrics sciences at the university's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. In its most recent briefing paper, the institute noted that clinical management of COVID cases has improved as medical professionals gain experience. Still, the death toll he predicts, and he has been accurate so far, will be six times the number of U.S. troops killed in the Viet Nam war and more than 150 times the number who died in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Here's the analysis from that November 19, 2020, briefing:

The pace of increase is faster than we expected, leading us to revise upward our forecast of deaths by March 1 to 471,000. This forecast assumes that 40 states will re-impose social distancing mandates as the daily death rate exceeds 8 per million. If they do not, the death toll could reach 658,000 by March 1.

Hospital systems in most states will be under severe stress during December and January even in our reference scenario. Increasing mask use to 95% can save 65,000 lives by March 1.

You can't, to protect the public's health, ignore the ease of transmission and focus only on what seems like a low mortality rate, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, has repeatedly explained:

The mortality rate is down to about 1%, which means it is 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu. This is a really serious problem.

Combine that level of lethality with the fact that airborne particles quickly spread the disease and you soon have a large number of people infected, which means a fatality rate of "only" 1% yields a death toll of more than 250,000 as of November 24, 2020.

Here is a clip of Fauci's March 11 testimony:

Conspiracists and political partisans have worked to reduce public trust in COVID-19 case counts and death tallies. Public health experts now steer people to the long-term average mortality counts for a given country and compare that expected number of deaths to the actual number since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The difference is what is called "excess deaths," a statistic the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says will plainly show many more deaths this year than expected. The CDC estimated by the end of October almost 200,000 had died of COVID-19:

Overall, an estimated 299,028 excess deaths occurred from late January through October 3, 2020, with 198,081 (66%) excess deaths attributed to COVID-19. The largest percentage increases were seen among adults aged 25-44 years and among Hispanic or Latino persons.

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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.


  Dean Miller

Lead Stories staff writer Dean Miller has edited daily and weekly newspapers, worked as a reporter for more than a decade and is co-author of two non-fiction books. After a one-year Harvard Nieman Fellowship, he served as Director of Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy for six years. As Senior Vice President/Content at Connecticut Public Broadcasting, a dual licensee, he oversaw radio, TV and print journalists, and documentary producers. He moved west to teach journalism at Western Washington University, edit The Port Townsend Leader and write the twice-weekly Save The Free Press column for the Seattle Times. Miller won the 2007 national Mirror Award for news industry coverage and he led the team that won the 2005 Scripps Howard first amendment prize. 

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