A top U.S. health official said the worst is yet to come with the coronavirus outbreak that has already infected more than 1,000 people across the nation and resulted in at least 31 deaths.
“I can say we will see more cases and things will get worse than they are right now,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday at a hearing on the nation’s preparedness for the outbreak.
Fauci said COVID-19 is at least 10 times “more lethal” than the seasonal flu, even if the mortality rate drops far below the World Health Organization’s current estimate of 3.4%.
The 2003 SARS epidemic, which began in November 2002 and ran through July 2003, had a mortality rate of 9% to 10%, he said, meaning roughly 10% of the people who caught it eventually died.
Since COVID-19 emerged in China two and a half months ago, “it clearly is not as lethal … but it certainly spreads better,” he said, adding seasonal flu has a mortality rate of 0.1%.
The WHO’s estimated mortality rate for COVID-19 started off at 2%, Fauci said. If you count all the estimated cases of people who may have it but haven’t been diagnosed yet, the mortality rate is probably closer to 1%, he said, “which means it’s 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu.”
The H1N1 “swine flu” epidemic in 2009 was even less lethal than regular seasonal flu, Fauci said.
While COVID-19 cases are slowing in China, where the outbreak originated in December, it’s picking up pace across other parts of the world. Italy has the most cases outside of China with roughly 10,150 infections, followed by Iran with 9,000 infections and South Korea with more than 7,700, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. In the U.S., the number of cases erupted over the last week to more than 1,030 spread across at least 36 states, according to Johns Hopkins.
The COVID-19 outbreak is just weeks underway in the U.S. How much worse it gets depends on two things, Fauci said: containing the influx of infected people coming from other countries and containing local outbreaks within the U.S.
“Bottom line is it’s going to get worse,” he added.