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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus briefing at the National Institutes of Health on March 3, 2020, in Bethesda, Maryland. (AP/Vucci) Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus briefing at the National Institutes of Health on March 3, 2020, in Bethesda, Maryland. (AP/Vucci)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus briefing at the National Institutes of Health on March 3, 2020, in Bethesda, Maryland. (AP/Vucci)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher March 18, 2020

Ron Paul wrong to say no basis for coronavirus death rate

If Your Time is short

  • It’s not yet known what the death rate from the current coronavirus, COVID-19, will be.

  • But early data indicate it is more than 10 times higher than the death rate for the flu.

For decades, Anthony Fauci has been held up as one of the federal government’s foremost public health experts. Even at age 79, he is one of the top advisers to President Donald Trump on the coronavirus crisis.

Yet Ron Paul, a sometimes conspiracy-minded Texas doctor, former GOP congressman and former presidential candidate, seemed to raise a fair question about a coronavirus statement made by Fauci.

Calling Fauci "the chief fearmonger of the Trump Administration," Paul wrote in a column on his website that Fauci "testified to Congress that the death rate for the coronavirus is 10 times that of the seasonal flu, a claim without any scientific basis."

We wondered about the scientific basis attack. In some contexts, public health experts have said it’s too early in the coronavirus outbreak to know exactly what it’s death rate is.

Paul’s post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

"I can’t think of a more universally trusted person among virologists than" Fauci, who has served as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, said Emily Bruce, an immunobiology faculty scientist at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

Fauci is taking the seasonal influenza death rate to be approximately 0.1% and the coronavirus to be about 1%, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security. 

"While it is early in the outbreak, there is enough data to say that 1% is likely a fairly reasonable approximation with some scientific basis in data."

While the numbers aren’t all precise, there is a basis for what Fauci said.

As we’ve reported:

Featured Fact-check

  • Based solely on the numbers, you’re more likely to die if you get the 2019 coronavirus than if you get the flu. (Several factors apply, such as age and health.)

  • A study of 44,672 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in China diagnosed as of Feb. 11, 2020, from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention found a fatality rate of 2.3%. A March 3, 2020, estimate from the World Health Organization put the figure at 3.4%, although that figure is likely inflated given how many cases are mild and not treated in hospitals. Some people who die never report having had coronavirus.

The latest daily report on COVID-19 from the World Health Organization, issued March 16, 2020, said there have been 167,515 confirmed cases and 6,606 deaths. That’s a death rate of 3.9%.

The flu death rate is much lower.

In its latest weekly report on the 2019-20 flu, for the week ending March 7, 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there have been 36 million flu illnesses and 22,000 deaths. That’s a rate of 0.06%.

The case fatality ratio — dividing reported deaths by reported cases — is only a snapshot and the rate can vary considerably during an outbreak, the World Health Organization told us.

"We will not have a clear CFR until the outbreak is over," WHO said in a statement, adding that the CFR can change if it is discovered that there are many more milder cases than originally thought, and can vary by country based demographic factors, such as age. 

We didn’t hear back from our requests for information from Paul. 

Our ruling

Paul said that Anthony Fauci’s statement that the coronavirus death rate is 10 times that of the seasonal flu is "a claim without any scientific basis."

We won’t know for some time what the actual death rate is for people who contract the current coronavirus, COVID-19. But based on figures that are available, it’s indicated to be at least 10 times higher than the death rate from the flu. We rate Paul’s statement False.

Correction, March 24, 2020: CDC estimates have indicated a COVID-19 death rate of 0.06%, not 0.0006%, as we originally reported. This fact-check has been updated with the correct figure.

Our Sources

Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, "The Coronavirus Hoax," March 16, 2020

Email, Emily Bruce, immunobiology faculty scientist at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont, March 17, 2020

Email, World Health Organization spokeswoman Carla Drysdale, March 17, 2020

Email, Dr. Myron Cohen, director of the Institute for Global Health & Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina, March 17, 2020

PolitiFact, "Are you more likely to die from the flu than coronavirus? It’s complicated," March 10, 2020

PolitiFact, "Why it’s hard to estimate the coronavirus death rate this early," March 6, 2020

Email, Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security, March 17, 2020

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report," March 13, 2020

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Ron Paul wrong to say no basis for coronavirus death rate

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