• When the novel coronavirus outbreak was first picking up pace in the US, countless misinformed people including the president of the United States likened it to the common flu.
  • Not only is the comparison wrong, it’s actually quite dangerous and echoes of that early inaccuracy can still be heard today by people who downplay the severity of COVID-19.
  • If there are still people in your life who compare the new coronavirus to the flu in an effort to downplay its severity, one simple video is all you need to share to explain exactly why COVID-19 is so much more dangerous.
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Here in the United States, things are starting to get really bad. We now have the highest number of confirmed novel coronavirus cases in the world, with more than twice as many cases as the next closest country, Italy. The US also has the third-highest number of deaths, though China’s figures remain in question after it was reported that the US intelligence community has evidence that China has been fudging its numbers.

It was an inevitability that the US would quickly eclipse other countries when it comes to total coronavirus case count, and we’re still not testing a huge portion of people in hot zones who are exhibiting symptoms that aren’t severe. Inevitable, yes, but the number of Americans who were infected could have been dramatically lower if the White House had done its job. The administration was well aware of what was coming our way, but it chose to downplay the severity of the novel coronavirus pandemic in those crucial early weeks. Even as the rate of COVID-19 infections began to pick up, Trump was still telling the country that the severity of the outbreak was being exaggerated by his political opponents, and he repeated a number of lies and inaccuracies during that critical time. One of the pieces of misinformation he repeated several times is particularly dangerous, and the negative effects of that deception continue to ripple even to this day.

“So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu,” Trump tweeted on March 9th (yes, seriously, it was that recent). “It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

It was one of the numerous times that Trump drew wrong and dangerous parallels between the novel coronavirus and the common flu. He eventually began singing a different tune once the infection count zoomed to 100,000 and far beyond, but the damage had already been done. To this day, there are still a shockingly large number of people across the country who refuse to take necessary measures like self-quarantining and social distancing. When defending their positions, they often parrot the misinformation trumpeted by Trump.

Facts matter, so the best way to deal with people who use comparisons to the flu in an effort to explain why they don’t need to take the most basic precautions is to show them why they’re wrong. Thankfully, there’s a wonderfully simple video that does all the work for you.

In the video, Professor Hugh Montgomery explains that a person with the flu will on average infect 1.3 to 1.4 people. 1.3 is the generally accepted figure. A person with the novel coronavirus, on the other hand, will on average infect 3 people. That might seem like a small difference but we can assure you it’s not, and Montgomery explains why.

If you infect 1.3 people with the flu, and they infect 1.3 people, and so on, after that has happened 10 times you will have been directly responsible for giving the flu to 14 people. Do the math. If you infect 3 people with COVID-19, and they infect 3 people, and they infect three people… you will have been responsible for a whopping 59,049 people. Do the math.

People with COVID-19 can be asymptomatic for as long as 2 weeks before symptoms first start to present. In fact, it is now believed that many people with COVID-19 infections might never present any symptoms at all. The only way to be certain you don’t have it is with a negative test, and novel coronavirus tests are still very difficult to come by. That means the only way to be certain you don’t have it and infect other people, or to be certain that you aren’t infected by someone else who has COVID-19, is to shelter in place. When you do absolutely have to go out, follow the advice you’ve seen time and time again: Practice social distancing (a new study suggests the new coronavirus can travel up to 27 feet in the air), don’t touch your face, and wash your hands anytime you touch a surface that might have been touched by anyone else.

Zach Epstein has worked in and around ICT for more than a decade, first in marketing and business development with two private telcos, then as a writer and editor covering business news, consumer electronics and telecommunications. Zach’s work has been quoted by countless top news publications. He was also recently named one of the world's top-10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes, as well as one of Inc. Magazine's top-30 Internet of Things experts.