- The COVID-19 death rate — the number of known deaths divided by the total number of confirmed cases — varies widely by country right now. In Italy, as of Tuesday, it was about 8%, while in the US it was 1.7%.
- Worldwide, more than 212,000 people have been infected with the new coronavirus, and at least 8,700 people have died.
- Generally, the death rate seems to decrease as more people are tested and cases are confirmed.
- This chart compares death rates in 16 countries that have confirmed deaths and more than 1,000 cases.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Italy on Wednesday reported 475 coronavirus deaths, the highest one-day death toll of any nation since the outbreak began.
Italy’s COVID-19 death rate — the number of known deaths divided by the total number of confirmed cases — is higher than anywhere else in the world, at about 8% as of Tuesday afternoon. Belgium, where 10 people had died out of 1,243 total cases, had a death rate of just 0.8%.
While this variation among countries may sound concerning, the rate largely depends on how many people get tested for COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. In countries like South Korea, which had tested 295,647 people as of Wednesday, the death rate is lower than in, say, the US, which has tested about 70,000 people.
Countries’ death rates have changed over time
Because countries’ case totals and death tolls are constantly changing as the coronavirus outbreak evolves, their death rates are not static.
On March 6, the US had the highest death rate — about 6% — among countries with more than 100 cases. Italy’s death rate at the time was about half of what it was on Tuesday.
Many health experts have predicted that death rates overall will decrease as the number of cases rises and testing expands. The US’s experience offers evidence of that: As of Tuesday, its death rate had dropped to 1.7% from 5.9% about two weeks ago; in the 12 days between calculations, the number of people tested in the US jumped to more than 58,000 from fewer than 2,000.
Widespread testing could mean a lower death rate because most COVID-19 cases — about 80% — are considered mild. But the cases tested and reported first are often those with the most severe symptoms, since those people go to the hospital. Milder cases, on the other hand, could go uncounted or get reported later on, so the true number of infected people is likely much higher than the reported total.
“If indeed we discover that there are far more cases that are actually being reported, and that one of the primary reasons for this is that we’re just not detecting asymptomatic or mild or moderately symptomatic cases that don’t end up seeking healthcare, then our estimates for the case fatality rate will likely decrease,” Lauren Ancel Meyers, an epidemiologist at the University of Texas at Austin, previously told Business Insider.
Very mild cases, she added, “may not make it onto the radar of public-health agencies.”
The death rate is not the same as your chance of dying
The World Health Organization estimated on March 3 that the global death rate for COVID-19 was about 3.4%. New research (that has yet to be peer-reviewed) from a group of Chinese researchers suggested the rate could be lower than WHO’s estimate — it found that the death rate in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began in December, was about 1.4%.
The death rate of a disease is different from its mortality rate, which is the number of deaths out of the number of people in an at-risk population. A death rate is not a reflection of the likelihood that a given person will die.
According to Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, COVID-19’s mortality rate is probably around 1%, which is still about 10 times the flu’s.