Donald Trump still does not understand the seriousness of COVID-19. He is still comparing it to the mortality rate of influenza. He is even comparing it to vehicular deaths, utterly unrelated to infectious disease.

“The whole concept of death is terrible. But there’s a tremendous difference between something under 1 percent and 4 or 5 or even 3 percent. So that’s something that we’re learning now.” …

“You look at automobile accidents, which are far greater than any numbers we’re talking about,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to tell everybody no more driving of cars. So we have to do things to get our country open.”

Patients, perhaps having watched the president downplay the seriousness of the pandemic, ask UAMS internist Dr. Robert Hopkins why coronavirus is more serious, given the many thousands who will die from the flu in any given year.

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We have all heard the reasons. None of us have immunity to this new virus, which jumped from animals to humans last year. Bout our bodies do recognize the flu virus, even though it mutates from year to year. There are flu vaccines to keep the virus from sickening a huge portion of the population every year; not so for coronavirus.

Influenza and its infection and mortality rate are known to medical science. Flu is predictable. Not so with the coronavirus.”We are faced with a lot of unknowns,” Hopkins said. “Humans do not do well with unknowns.” 

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According to a report on NPR, one person with coronavirus will infect 2 to 2.5 people the virus. The proportion with the flu is 1 to 1.3.

But what about those mortality numbers? Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who is advising the president, says COVID-19 appears to be 10 times more lethal than the flu; others put it higher. 

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So which would you rather have, coronavirus or the flu?

Hopkins said he likes to ask patients to use images to understand the seriousness of COVID-19, like the scenes on television and online of hastily constructed hospitals to handle the thousands made ill. “Just look at what has happened in Italy right now,” he said. “The hospitals are full to the max.” Italian doctors are having to triage ventilators, taking them from sick patients to give to sicker patients. “They’re making choices between who is going to live and who is not,” Hopkins said. “That’s what we have to avoid.”

In Washington state, Hopkins said, doctors are having to make contingency plans around their supply of ventilators: “They’re trying to see how quickly they can clean them to get ready for the next patient.”

The shortage of test kits makes it impossible to know the true rate of infection among the population in Arkansas, Hopkins noted. What is known, from what we’re seeing elsewhere in the world, is that “we are still very much on the upswing,” he said. 

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In addition to the threat to health, the burden on hospitals and health care providers, the burdens on family, there are other impacts, Hopkins said: fear and stress.

“I hate to see what’s happened to the financial markets,” Hopkins said. But he’s more worried for his patients and their families.

“I saw a young man over the weekend; he had a good indicator [of COVID-19 infection]. I got a note from his mother that said, thank you for helping with our son. We are quarantined and can’t get out to hospital to see him.”