Nervous residents in Galveston County might have received a bit of good news this month when representatives for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised downward their projections for how many people might contract the virus and die during the pandemic.

But local and national health experts cautioned this week that projections are just that, and residents would do well not to overly rely on single statistics when it comes to understanding the coronavirus pandemic — a complex new virus, about which much is still unknown.

“The problem with any death rate estimates is that they are, in fact, estimates,” Galveston County Health Authority Philip Keiser said.

The new projections divide into five separate possible scenarios, with the current “best guess” estimate, Scenario Number 5, projecting the virus might kill about 0.4 percent of symptomatic people — a considerable drop from some initial estimates that the virus might kill as many as 1.5 percent.

Even with that improved death rate, however, projections currently show about 500,000 people in the country dying from coronavirus by the end of the pandemic.

But representatives with the CDC did not respond to requests to comment about how they came up with the numbers by deadline Friday, and several health experts had some doubts about the projections.

“They are extremely rosy projections,” said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “I have no idea where they even came up with Scenario 5 being the best estimate.”

Projecting death rates, and knowing how to read any projections, is an incredibly complicated process, said Laura Rudkin, an adjunct faculty member in preventative medicine and population health at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

“There’s just a lot we don’t know, and there is more data all the time,” she said.

Even talking about something like a fatality rate takes some qualification, Rudkin cautioned. For instance, a true death rate would involve comparing the total population infected with the number that die. But the symptomatic fatality rate is dependent on how many people are identified — the more cases health officials identify, the larger the denominator and the rate will decrease.

“That doesn’t mean the severity of the virus is different,” she said. “It just means you’ve identified more cases.”

National health officials are trying to use systems for recording coronavirus deaths similar to those used to calculate how many people die each year from influenza, but because of how much is unknown, it’s unclear how reliable the information is at this point, Keiser said.

“You’re seeing a huge difference in the death rate almost based on where you are,” he said. “Some places in New York, for instance, have huge death rates, while other places are not nearly so high.”

Modeling any infectious disease is incredibly difficult, Hanage agreed. But there are some lessons to learn from what we’ve seen so far.

“New York City shows what happens when this virus gets into the community and spreads,” he said. “That should be a sobering thing. We can say with some good reason that New York is not like other places, with its high density.

“But that doesn’t mean it won’t transmit to other places — it just will be slower. But it certainly doesn’t mean the fatality rate will be any lower.”

There’s already some debate about whether the number of coronavirus deaths are being over counted or under counted, Keiser said. But he believes the death number is under counted.

“Unfortunately, this has now turned into a political issue,” he said. “You can almost tell how someone votes based on what they think. But the virus is not political, and the numbers are what the numbers are. It’s out there, killing people. Fortunately, it’s not as many as we feared.”

That latter thought has led to some in Galveston County arguing the response should be more reasonable.

“An epidemiologist isn’t a politician, and I think they are saying what they know,” said Seth Alford, a League City resident. “But it’s kind of grotesque theater watching the polarization taking place. I think this has gotten out of hand. This affects different sets of individuals differently.”

Ultimately, some older residents should be cautious and try to practice social distancing, but it’s time for businesses to begin reopening, Alford said.

Matt deGrood: 409-683-5230;


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(20) comments

Bailey Jones

If the mortality rate among the infected is 0.4%, and we have more than 100,000 dead, then simple math says that the number of US infected isn't the 1.7 million that we know about through our limited testing capability, but more than 25 million. The death rate has dropped from 15,000/ week in April to about half that. But the data from this last week hints at a leveling off of the rate, rather than a continued decrease. We shouldn't be surprised to be north of 125,000 deaths by July 4th.

Dan Freeman

Please show your work, thanks.

Bailey Jones

ummm... 100000/.004 = 25000000

For rest, you'll need a spreadsheet, and this data:

Theresa Elliott

"The problem with any death rate estimates is that they are, in fact, estimates,” Galveston County Health Authority Philip Keiser said. Then he states "The numbers are what they are"...….Its hard to believe any of the statistics or estimates anymore and we are blindly throwing more money at testing. And the worse is yet to come when the "tracing" starts and whoever these "tracers" start tracking people down. Where does that stop? Government waste of our tax dollars is getting even more out of control...….

Ted Gillis

Okay Theresa, then do us all a favor and stay home.

Theresa Elliott

I'm definitely doing my part, following guidelines like a good citizen, but not afraid to ask questions and seek facts. Sorry you feel the need to attack people who may disagree with you.

Wayne D Holt


Wayne D Holt

I'm not sure where this mortality figure of 0.4% came from. The CDC press release had an accompanying chart that showed overall mortality among ALL age groups was actually 0.26%. The majority of fatalities came from nursing homes for seniors in six states where governors forced COVID-19 positive victims back to the nursing home rather than isolating them.

So among all Americans, when you remove the deaths from the stupidity of government leadership, you have a fatality rate that is actually less than a bad flu season.

"But local and national health experts cautioned this week that projections are just that, and residents would do well not to overly rely on single statistics when it comes to understanding the coronavirus pandemic — a complex new virus, about which much is still unknown."

This is replete with irony. It was local and national health "experts" who allowed the garbage data of Imperial College London's epidemiological projections to drive the entire early narrative--that was never changed when ICL themselves scaled back the projected fatalities by 96.5%.

Isn't it rich they destroyed the world's economy, threw nearly 40,000,000 Americans out of work and crushed small businesses on exactly that reliance on garbage data from a handful of sources with a known history of spectacularly wrong calls?

Now that the numbers are showing what Stanford University researchers projected in March, we are told we shouldn't be too hasty. Maybe we're two weeks behind New York again, or the coming "second wave" will be the bad one. How much of this nonsense are we going to be treated to before we just start using common sense, personal research and a thumb to the nose for those who have been so grievously ill informed?

Bailey Jones

The only number that matters is 105,858, the death toll as of this moment.

Carlos Ponce

The only number that matters is the 329,620,000+ Americans who didn't die from the Wuhan Coronavirus. Don't be such a Debbie Downer, Bailey.

Bailey Jones

Your heartlessness leaves me speechless.

Carlos Ponce

No disrespect to those who have died and their families, Bailey but we must look after the living. Care for those that fit the endangered profile. Did you think Jesus was heartless when He said, "Let the dead bury the dead"?

Bailey Jones

If you cared about the living, you'd wear a face mask, and encourage others to do the same.

Carlos Ponce

Factually, do they really help, Bailey? It just a symbol that shows you "care". Just like those twisted ribbons. According to Politico "Wearing a mask is for smug liberals. Refusing to is for reckless Republicans." Sorry Bailey but I have no strings to control me, no buttons to control me either. Dein gedanka sind frei.

Bailey Jones

Yes, Carlos - use your brain. Viruses are carried in respiratory droplets. Any medium that either blocks droplets or slows them down will reduce transmission. Why do surgeons wear masks during surgery? It's not because they think they might be exposed to something, it's to prevent infecting the patients. Why do staff at neonatal ICUs wear masks? To prevent infecting the babies. Why do you put a filter in a shop vac? Why do you blow your nose with a tissue instead of your bare hands? This is not a new or novel idea. Besides simple common sense, basic physics, and a century of medical practice, there is plenty of new science to back this up. For example -

Normally I would posit that the only reason Trumpsters, like yourself, refuse to wear masks is because they follow the example of your president, a narcissist who is more concerned about how he looks than whether another 100,000 people die. But presumably "Dein gedanka sind frei" is your claim to being a free thinker. That leads me back to where we started - that even while being aware of the fact that a very simple act can save lives, you refuse to do it out of a heartless disregard for human life.

Carlos Ponce

Chances are, Bailey, you and most of Galveston County have encountered the Wuhan Coronavirus given it's rate of transmission.

Carlos Ponce

"8 Reasons Why I Don’t Wear A Mask And You Probably Shouldn’t Either"

Ted Gillis

Theresa, you attacked first with your degrading comment about testing and contact tracing, or being tracked down as put it. And yes your opinion on the waste of government tax dollars, is just that, your opinion.

I happen to agree with our government testing and tracing (tracking down) individuals, in other words, contacting people that may be at risk of infection or a risk to others.

That’s what I meant by suggesting that you stay home.

Theresa Elliott

Well, if you feel like making a comment about tracers tracking us down ( which is exactly what they do) is an attack or degrading then that’s your opinion, but it isn’t mine and we can agree to disagree.

Ted Gillis

Carlos, you should speech write for Dan Patrick.

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