Thursday, March 19, 2020

A Serious Problem With Richard Epstein's Optimistic Case On the Spread of COVID-19

Ok, I am getting inundated with emails about the essay from the Hoover Institution's Richard Epstein about COVID-19.

Although I am generally sympathetic with his view that the current mainstream perspective concerning the spread and death rate of COVID-19 is extremely pessimistic, there is a problem with Epstein's presentation which prevents me from featuring it.

I do agree with his statement:
As of March 16, the data from the United States falls short of justifying the draconian measures that are now being implemented.
But here is a problem in the way he makes his case. He writes (my highlight):
[T]he toll from the flu in the United States since October ran as follows: between 36 to 51 million infections, between 370 thousand to 670 thousand flu hospitalizations, and between 22 thousand to 55 thousand flu deaths. That works out to between roughly between 230,000 to 320,000 new infections per day, and between 140 to 350 deaths per day for an overall mortality rate of between 0.044 percent to 0.152 percent...

Many of the dire media accounts do not mention evolution. After the initial outburst in Kirkland, the target population was fitter. It is instructive therefore to look at the total number of cases, which spiked from 70 cases on March 5 to 672 cases on March 15. But those figures do not presage an increase into the thousands of daily cases that would be needed to reach the totals of the flu season. The current numbers are about 3 per cent of the rate of new flu cases in the 2019-2020 virus season...From this available data, it seems more probable than not that..In the United States, the current 67 deaths should reach about 500.
This is certainly a case of mixing apples and oranges (and maybe not understanding compounding).

You can't just say that the current number of new of COVID-19 cases are 3 per cent of new flu cases in the 2019-2020 flu season and therefore it is highly unlikely that the current number of COVID-19 cases will not climb to flu levels

First, it is likely the flu season started much earlier than when COVID-19 came on the scene. If COVID-19 came on the scene in, say, September, as flu did, at current very low levels, then, given the power of compounding, it is possible that the number of cases of COVID-19 could be equal to the flu or even higher.

Here is a chart showing how the number of deaths from COVID-19 could explode from 3 per week to 49,000 per week by June! Given the current assumed growth rate of those infected continues at a 30% rate every 10 days. (via Michael Lin)

At a 1.0% death rate that would mean, that by June, 4.9 million infected per week, which would very rapidly bring the COVID-19 count up near the number of seasonal flu cases.

I hold the view, like Epstein, that COVID-19 does not appear to be a serious killer, that is, it is not much different than the flu and that we probably won't hit flu-like numbers this year because of warmer weather coming and because of current isolation factors but the case can not be made, that because COVID-19 infections are only 3% of flu infections, that therefore they can not climb to flu-like levels. It is mathematically well within the range of possibility, especially given that about 40% of the country is vaccinated against the flu and no one is vaccinated against COVID-19.



  1. Using only the available stats for COVID-19: infected, recovered, deaths, etcetera will be miss-leading. Look at the CDC’s stats on SARS and MERS. After years of compiling stats they still have large ranges for how many people were affected. Look at the previous TL post “Is the Current COVID-19 Testing Designed to Create Panic?” that illustrates one of the issues with information about the virus.

    A sober evaluation would look at the data available for past corona virus outbreaks. Compare that info with COVID-19 both chronologically and biologically. Evaluate the similarities and differences and qualify their determinations, predictions, etcetera.

    I am not aware of such an evaluation.

  2. So RW, are you saying that the 40% vaccinated against the flu are NOT vulnerable just 60% that were not vaccinated? I'd like to the Vitamin D levels of everyone tested. I'm still rereading your analysis.