Shouldn’t COVID-19’s Lethality Inform the Response to It?
Evidence that the virus is much less deadly than people feared weakens the case for maintaining lockdowns.
When she announced the startling results of a new COVID-19 study on Monday, Los Angeles County’s top public health official emphasized that the number of infections far exceeds the official count of confirmed cases. She underplayed another important implication of the study: COVID-19 seems to be far less deadly than many people feared.
The way the Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer framed the study’s results raises a question that policymakers across the country will confront as they consider when and how to loosen sweeping restrictions aimed at curtailing the COVID-19 epidemic. Will they be guided by emerging evidence, or will they use it to support the policies they already favored?
The Los Angeles County study, conducted by the University of Southern California researchers in collaboration with Ferrer’s department, tested a representative sample of 863 adults for antibodies to the virus in early April. About 4 percent of them tested positive, indicating that the number of adults in the county who had been infected by the virus was roughly 40 times the number of confirmed cases at the time.