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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke April 27, 2021

No, COVID-19 hasn’t killed fewer people than the flu

If Your Time is short

  • About 3.1 million people around the world have died of COVID-19 since the first case was reported in December 2019.
     
  • The flu kills an estimated 290,000 to 650,000 people every year worldwide. The average number of U.S. flu deaths has been about 36,000 a year over the past decade. 
     
  • In the United States, about 572,549 people have so far died of COVID-19.
 

In a recent video posted to Facebook, conservative commentator Wendy Bell complains about people who wear face masks, and around the 1:07-minute mark, says: "You’re afraid of a freaking virus that has killed less people than the damn flu?"

But that’s not accurate. 

This 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.)

We’ve previously dug into comparisons between the coronavirus and the flu. They’re often used to cast doubt on the seriousness of COVID-19. In October 2020, for example, then-president Donald Trump wrongly said that COVID-19 is "far less lethal" than the flu for most people. 

We reached out to Bell to find out the source of her claim, but we didn’t hear back. 

However, according to Johns Hopkins University, about 3.1 million people around the world had died of COVID-19 as of April 26, 2021.

The flu, meanwhile, kills between 290,000 to 650,000 people every year worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. 

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Even if 650,000 people died of the flu annually over the past four years, that’s still fewer than the number of people who died of COVID-19 in the less than two years since the first case was reported in December 2019. 

In the United States, about 572,549 people have so far died of COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins. 

The average number of flu deaths per year here over the past decade has been about 36,000. The worst flu season was in 2017-18, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates between 46,000 and 95,000 people died. It’s still a fraction of the number of people who died of COVID-19.

It’s also worth noting that the number of people who tested positive for the flu this most recent season dropped dramatically compared with years past. Experts suspect that’s thanks to measures taken to slow the spread of COVID-19, such as social distancing and masking.

Of course, COVID-19 is a relatively new disease, so over time the flu has caused more deaths than the coronavirus. But that’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. Since it was discovered, COVID-19 has killed far more people.

In 2020, COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death in the United States, according to the CDC, after heart disease and cancer. About 345,000 Americans died of COVID-19 during that calendar year, or more than nine times as many Americans who die of the flu on average every year.

We rate this claim False.

 

Our Sources

Facebook post, April 18, 2021

PolitiFact, Donald Trump’s false claim that COVID-19 is less deadly than the flu, Oct. 6, 2020

Johns Hopkins University, COVID-19 dashboard, visited April 26, 2021

Johns Hopkins University, Coronavirus disease 2019 vs. the flu, updated April 23, 2021

World Health Organization, WHO launches new global influenza strategy, March 11, 2019

PolitiFact, Experts credit COVID-19 response for sharp decline in flu, Feb. 5, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Provisional mortality data — United States, 2020

 

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No, COVID-19 hasn’t killed fewer people than the flu

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