(Natural News) The ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic could kill more people than previous studies have estimated. In a new study posted in pre-print server MedRxiv, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley claim that Italy could see a case fatality rate of 0.85 percent and that New York City and Santa Clara County in California could see a fatality rate of 0.5 percent. The latter two are much higher than the 0.1 and 0.2 percent estimates posted last week by epidemiologists from Stanford University.
“Their final number is much lower than our estimate,” said senior author Uros Seljak, a member of the Berkeley Institute for Data Science, in regards to the Stanford study.
More deaths predicted compared to previous studies
Uncertainty about the fatality rate stems from a shortage of testing that has kept officials in the dark about the true rate of infection in the general population. The Stanford study estimated an infection rate in Santa Clara County of between 2.5 percent and 4.2 percent based on antibody testing — much higher than previous estimates. The Stanford team, however, combined this with existing death data. As a result, the number of confirmed coronavirus-positive deaths relative to those infected dropped to a low of 0.2 percent.
Based on their results, some of the Stanford authors argued that COVID-19 is only a little worse than the seasonal flu — a proclamation that sent many other scientists and health care experts up in arms. (Related: WSJ writer hyping “Stanford study” was actually a co-author on the paper, but didn’t declare his bias.)
“Of course, it [the infection fatality rate] matters, for policy decisions,” said Seljak. “Is this just a bad case of flu, as they would like to claim, or is it something much more serious?”
For their study, the researchers tapped a different source of data: the daily death rate of 1,688 towns in Italy between January and April for the years 2015 through 2020, as provided by the Italian National Institute of Statistics.
The team assumed that the excess deaths for January to April of this year — the increased number of deaths compared to previous annual averages — were largely attributable to the coronavirus. This is regardless of whether or not these deaths were officially reported as being caused by the pandemic.
According to the study, the true number of deaths for Italy is more than twice that of the official figure at around 50,000 people. As of reporting time, the running tally from Johns Hopkins University puts Italy’s death toll at over 27,000 – far lower than estimates.
When the same methodology was applied to Santa Clara County, the estimated fatality rate more than doubled to 0.5 percent or one in every 200 cases. Working back from this, the team also predicted an infection rate for Santa Clara County of 1 percent.
Listen below as Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, gives us the score on the real fatality rate of the coronavirus, and how it’s nearly 100 times deadlier than the regular flu:
Higher rate of deaths of younger people in New York City
Differing fatality rates also explain the observed higher number of deaths among younger people in New York City. As the city’s population is younger than Italy’s, more deaths among young people are expected, despite their lower fatality rate. Seljak’s team predicts that 26 percent of all deaths from COVID-19 in New York City will be from those below 65 years of age.
Italy, on the other hand, has a much older population, yielding a higher overall fatality rate for the country’s population at 0.8 percent, compared to 0.5 percent for New York. Only 10 percent of deaths in Italy will be from those below the age of 65.
For New York City, based on the predicted fatality rate for those infected with the coronavirus and the positivity for those tested for COVID-19, the team estimates that about one-quarter of the city’s population has been infected. Their figures agree with the recent announcement by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of a 21 percent rate of infection.
Despite higher numbers from the UC Berkeley study, Seljak stated that their figures were “conservative.” The estimates from the study are the “lower limits” because the Italian death counts used as their basis are not up to date.
“Some of my colleagues think that we have been overly conservative, which might be true,” Seljak said. “We have just accounted for the people who have died up until today, but people are still dying.”