Here's what the death toll so far says about the coronavirus mortality rate.

By Renee Cherry
Updated March 17, 2020

At this point, it's hard not to feel some level of doom at the number of coronavirus-related stories continuing to make headlines. If you've been keeping up with its spread in the U.S., you know that cases of this novel coronavirus, aka COVID-19, have officially been confirmed in all 50 states. And as of publishing, at least 75 coronavirus deaths have been reported in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With that in mind, you might be wondering about the coronavirus mortality rate and how deadly the virus really is.

One easy way to figure out how many people have died from the coronavirus (without going down a rabbit hole each time you research) is to check the World Health Organization (WHO)'s situation reports. The latest report, posted March 16, says that COVID-19 has killed 3,218 people in China and 3,388 people outside of China so far. Considering the WHO has reported a global total of 167,515 confirmed coronavirus cases, that means a large majority of people who have had COVID-19 haven't died from it. More specifically, this means the coronavirus deaths make up a little more than three percent of the total confirmed cases. The virus seems to be more fatal in people who are older than 60 and/or have underlying health conditions, according to the WHO's March 16 report. (Related: Can an N95 Mask Actually Protect You from the Coronavirus?)

If you're well-versed in death rates, a coronavirus mortality rate of three percent probably sounds high, considering the flu mortality rate in the U.S. usually doesn't exceed 0.1 percent. Even the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic mortality rate was only 2.5 percent, killing roughly 500 million people around the world, and that was the most severe pandemic in recent history.

Keep in mind, though, that not everyone who has contracted COVID-19 has necessarily checked into a hospital, let alone been tested for the virus. Meaning, the current coronavirus mortality rate estimation of three percent could be inflated. Plus, even though the coronavirus mortality rate seems like it's on the higher side, the number of total deaths is still relatively low compared to the number of coronavirus survivors at this point, as well as the number of total deaths caused by other common illnesses and coronavirus strains. For starters, it's well below the hundreds of thousands of global deaths that the flu causes each year. (Related: Can a Healthy Person Die from the Flu?)

If the COVID-19 mortality rate is as high as three percent, all the more reason to do your part to help prevent its spread and keep the coronavirus survival rate high. As of now, there still isn't a readily available vaccine for the coronavirus, but that doesn't mean everything's out of your hands. Based on what the CDC has gathered about coronavirus transmission, the health agency recommends taking some cautionary measures: washing your hands, practicing social distancing, disinfecting surfaces, etc. (Here are some other expert-approved tips on how to prepare for coronavirus.)

So, if cold and flu season doesn't already have you at the top of your hygiene game, let this be your motivation.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. As updates about coronavirus COVID-19 continue to evolve, it’s possible that some information and recommendations in this story have changed since initial publication. We encourage you to check in regularly with resources such as the CDC, the WHO, and your local public health department for the most up-to-date data and recommendations.

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