As the U.S. surpasses other countries for the highest amount of confirmed cases, we are lagging behind in testing internationally.
The COVID-19 pandemic is arguably the most significant epidemiological event since the 1918 Spanish Flu. Different countries at different stages of outbreak have handled the pandemic in dramatically different ways. On account of that, it is prudent to conduct a brief overview of how several countries have handled the crisis.
Italy has seen an abnormally high death rate, likely because the elderly are more vulnerable to COVID-19, and Italy has an older than average population; almost 22 percent of the Italian population is over the age of 65. Italy has conducted a total of 2,514 tests per million people as of March 17, and it seems that the worst of the pandemic is behind Italy because reported new cases are beginning to level off, even as testing continues to increase. The densely populated Po Valley region in Northern Italy has been the most severely impacted region.
Iran has been relatively slow to react to COVID-19. Despite being one of the first nations to report a case of the virus outside of China, the Iranian government only ordered the shutdown of nonessential businesses on March 29, after confirmed cases had already surpassed 35,000. Iran has conducted a total of 550 tests per million people as of March 31. Iran is also rather noteworthy because roughly eight percent of the Iranian parliament has contracted the disease, which makes it more difficult for parliament members to communicate in a timely manner and pass appropriate legislation. There are, however,some allegations suggesting that Iran is doctoring the statistics.
It is now becoming apparent that some of China’s statistics are somewhat dubious. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has released official figures stating that the number of COVID-19 deaths has been approximately 2,500 and that there are almost no new cases. However, seven large funeral homes in Wuhan have each cremated approximately 500 people per day for a week. If we assume that these seven funeral homes handle the vast majority of cremations, that approximately 5,000 people died of causes not related to COVID-19 and that all bodies were disposed of within this timeframe, some simple math allows us to estimate that a more accurate number for deaths in Wuhan due to COVID-19 is 19,500. Some sources, however, suggest a death toll as high as 46,800. In either case, these figures suggest that the number of infected was substantially higher than the CCP had disclosed.
China silenced the first medical professionals who attempted to warn the world about COVID-19. In February, doctor Li Wienlang died of the very disease he attempted to inform the public about, but only after he was summoned by state officials and forced to sign a statement denouncing his warnings as preposterous rumor.
In comparison, the United States has lagged behind in testing, having only tested a total of 125 people per million as of March 17. On account of this, actual numbers of infected are likely at least somewhat higher than what is shown by the official data. To compensate for the low number of tests and other preventative measures conducted, the United States must now observe an extended period of social distancing which will persist for at least four more weeks.
However, the mortality rate in the U.S. has been relatively low, at 1.7 percent, according to figures released by Johns Hopkins on March 17. The United States now has more confirmed cases than any other country in the world, and although the Trump administration did initially quickly respond with a travel ban to China’s Hubei province in January, the administration did not use the time in between Wuhan’s outbreak and the United States’s outbreak to prepare for the contingency of COVID-19 becoming as large a pandemic as it is now, which explains why the U.S. has relatively low testing per capita.
The United States, while having more confirmed cases than any other nation, has fortunately been able to avoid a high death rate; the U.S. has seen roughly 26 deaths per million, as compared to 254 deaths per million in Italy, 41 deaths per million in Iran and 2.32 deaths per million in China (although this number is based on figures provided by the CCP, and likely inaccurate).