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Department of Physics

Professor Calvin W. Johnson

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     Information on COVID-19

I still see people claiming that COVID-19 is no more serious than the flu, or that hospitals are attributing to COVID-19 deaths due to other causes (somehow they would make money this way, it is claimed).


We can understand the seriousness of COVID-19 by looking at death rates. Overall death rates tend to be stable year to year, so a significant excess of deaths is a strong signal.


Typical rates of death in the US per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control:


Flu: 20-60,000 per year (Centers for Disease Control)


Car accidents: 30-40,000 per year (National Safety Council, CDC)


Guns: about 38,000 (this includes suicides)


Annual deaths overall in the US: In 2018, about 2.8 million


You can find the leading causes of all deaths in the US (for 2017) here:

Heart disease and cancer top the list at about 600,000 per year each.


This year, the US has seen an excess of deaths (from all causes) of about 200,000.


This is a nearly 10% increase in deaths so far this, about five times the number of deaths that the flu, car accidents, and guns each cause in a year. We would need an increase of 16% of heart disease and cancer deaths and label all of those as COVID to explain the excess deaths.


The truth is, COVID-19 is real, is serious, and is now the 3rd leading cause of death in the US, far more than the flu, than car accidents, or gun deaths.


I read some people arguing that 99.5% of people recover. Itís not clear itís that high, but letís suppose the mortality rate is only 0.5%.  But the virus is also extremely infectious.  If half the US population eventually gets infected, which is the minimum needed for so-called ďherd immunityĒ to kick in, which is around 150 million, that means 750,000 deaths.  (At SDSU, with 30,000 students, that would translate to 75-150 deaths.)