Is COVID-19 Getting Less Lethal?

A very difficult question to answer

Gideon M-K; Health Nerd
6 min readOct 22, 2020

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Sometimes I long for the days when I had hair so I could do something like this. Source: Pexels

In this era of vast uncertainty, one thing that has remained constant is the innumerable questions. When is this going to end? Are children at risk to the virus? Is ordering fried chicken three nights in a row a terrible idea?*

And one really quite important query: is COVID-19 getting less lethal over time?

Something that can really only be properly answered while staring into a crystal ball. Source: Pexels

If you listen to the headlines, the answer is an emphatic yes. According to many news sources, recent evidence has shown that COVID-19 is now less lethal than it was earlier in the year, which may be down to better treatments, mutations in the virus, or whatever theory is most popular at the time of writing.

And don’t get me wrong: I also think that the answer to this question is almost certainly yes. Over time, with newer treatments and improved modalities of care, it’s pretty much a sure thing that COVID-19 will kill fewer of the people that it infects. However, there’s a huge caveat to all of this — we expect that the virus will get less lethal, but the timeline of that reduction is very much in the air. I would be perfectly comfortable saying that, in 10 years’ time, you are probably very substantially less likely to die from the disease. But today compared to March? Or April? That’s a much more challenging question to answer, despite the headlines.

As someone who has spent an enormous amount of time researching the death rate of COVID-19, I am incredibly interested in knowing the answers here.

So, how would we know if COVID-19 was becoming less dangerous for those infected?

The Science

The quickest and easiest way to examine death rates would be to look at the case-fatality rate (CFR) of COVID-19 over time. This is simply the ratio of deaths to the number of people testing positive to the disease, and if you look at the figures you immediately see a drop between March and now across the board.

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