Duke health policy director says there’s no comparison between recent flu numbers, COVID-19 outbreak

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Calls to reopen North Carolina remain as the coronavirus outbreak continues.

Groups pushing for businesses to reopen point to the 2017-18 flu season as a comparison, but health experts caution drawing parallels.

“If you look at straight numbers, we still haven’t hit the 2017 influenza numbers. Look it up. I’ve been talking about these numbers for months and no one shut down our state then,” said Reopen NC co-founder Ashley Smith.

During a Reopen NC rally Friday, Smith compared the 2017-18 flu to the current COVID-19 pandemic.

The state is reporting 64,670 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 from March 3 to June 30. For the season, from October 2017 to May 2018, there were 12,396 total flu cases.

In North Carolina, there have been 1,343 deaths attributed to the virus.

According to the state data, there were 391 flu-related deaths in the 2017-2018 season, which was the highest number reported on record.

Another statistic pointed to is the death rate. About 2.1% of people in North Carolina who test positive from the virus have died. The fatality rate in the 2017-18 flu season was 3.2%.

“The number being ignored is the death rate, which has gone down. That is true in North Carolina, as well,” Smith said.

Former FDA director and director of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, Dr. Mark McClellan, said the fatality rate for COVID-19 has come down.

“We’ve definitely underestimated the number of people that have COVID. If you look at total number of cases as a denominator and number of people have died, that number looks low compared to many flu outbreaks,” McClellan said.

McClellan added that it’s important to look at the entire picture. He said it shows COVID-19 is more difficult to contain, especially without a vaccine.

“If you look at the total number of people infected, the total burden on the health care system and the total number of deaths, this is way, way worse. It’s not at all an even comparison,” he said.

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