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Justin Fox

How Bad Is the Coronavirus? Let’s Run the Numbers

The risks posed by Covid-19 — and the possibilities for getting it under control — become clearer with some simple math.

Professional doctors here.

Professional doctors here.

Source: AFP/Getty Images

The coronavirus outbreak has been turning a lot of us into amateur epidemiologists. Just listen to Mick Mulvaney, the former real estate developer and member of Congress from South Carolina who is now acting White House chief of staff. “The flu kills people,” he said last week. “This is not Ebola. It’s not SARS, it’s not MERS. It’s not a death sentence, it’s not the same as the Ebola crisis.”

All those statements are true. The flu does kill people: an estimated 61,099 in the U.S. in the worst recent flu season, that of 2017-2018. People who get Covid-19, the World Health Organization’s shorthand for Coronavirus Disease 2019, are much less likely to die than those infected with Ebola, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome of 2003 and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome first reported in 2012. And no, this is not the same as the Ebola crisis.