By Letter to the Editor on June 19, 2020.
Several recent letters to the editor have argued for a loosening of the COVID-19-related restrictions. Those letters have also generated a number of online comments, many in support of that argument.
In one especially memorable online comment, the anonymous contributor argued the restrictions amounted to unnecessary government overreach because the death rate from COVID-19 was no worse than the flu. I’d like to explore that position by comparing the respective death rates of the annual flu with COVID-19.
A 2013 study written by a group of scientists from Canada’s Centre for Immunization and Respiratory Infectious Diseases examined the 17 flu seasons prior to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. They found that over that period, an average of 3,500 Canadians died from the flu annually, a rate of 11.3/100,000 population. By contrast, as of June 6 the Coronavirus Resource Centre at Johns Hopkins University reports 7,778 COVID-19 deaths in Canada. That’s a rate of 20.6/100,000 population.
Based on these numbers alone COVID-19 is obviously not the same as the common flu. Moreover, we are only a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic and between now when a vaccine is available, there will be more infections and more deaths. With each day that passes COVID-19 will look even less like the annual flu.
I certainly understand that people are frustrated and angry, and I empathize. I also understand that thousands have lost jobs and are desperately worried about paying their bills and feeding their families. I am not trying to downplay or minimize those feelings in any way. However, in order to have an informed conversation about this situation, it is critical that we have a common understanding of some basic facts. To claim that COVID-19 is no different from the flu does not advance that conversation in a meaningful way.