After spending three days in the hospital, President Trump yet again spread COVID-19 misinformation, this time by comparing the disease to the flu in an effort to downplay how severe the illness really is.
Trump wrote that the flu causes many deaths every year, but doesn’t require us to “close down” the country. “We have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid,” he wrote on social media. He then falsely claimed that, “in most populations” the coronavirus is “far less lethal” than the flu.
Facebook later removed the post for containing false claims about COVID-19, CNN reports. Twitter hid the tweet with a note reading, “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about spreading misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.”
Comparisons that imply COVID-19 is less dangerous than the seasonal flu are inaccurate for many reasons, SELF explained previously. For starters, the flu is actually pretty rough. There were up to 56,000,000 cases of flu in the U.S. between October 2019 and April 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate. Of those cases, up to 740,000 required hospitalization. And somewhere between 24,000 and 62,000 people died due to the flu.
The flu may be bad, but COVID-19 is even worse. The coronavirus has killed more than 210,000 people in the U.S. in just seven months, according to estimates from the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. That’s more than three times as many deaths as the most recent flu season caused. Most—but not all—of those deaths occurred in people who had underlying conditions (like diabetes or heart disease) that put them at risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms or who developed complications of the illness, such as respiratory failure or sepsis, SELF explained previously.
Why is COVID-19 so much more destructive than the flu? This is partly due to the way in which each illness spreads. With the flu, people are generally contagious for about a day before they develop symptoms, and they stay contagious for five to seven days after that, the CDC says. Once you develop symptoms, you’re more likely to stay home and rest and, therefore, are less likely to be out spreading the illness.
But with the coronavirus, there may be up to 14 days between when someone becomes infected with COVID-19 and when they develop noticeable symptoms. During that time, people may actually be contagious and spreading the illness without even knowing they’re sick, SELF explained previously. Some people never develop noticeable symptoms but can still spread the virus. That’s why it’s important for everyone to stay socially distanced and wear a mask when they’re in public—even if they don’t feel sick.
This is also one reason why it’s so difficult to keep COVID-19 from spreading. Even when someone is confirmed to have the virus, they may have already exposed many other people by the time they’re diagnosed and told to isolate from others. (That’s especially a problem in the U.S. due to our ongoing issues with testing. If people—including those without symptoms—don’t have easy access to cheap, accurate tests, they can’t get tested frequently or quickly enough to prevent them from being out and unknowingly spreading the virus.)
The coronavirus also appears to be deadlier than the seasonal flu. The death rate for COVID-19 varies drastically depending on where you’re looking, but now most experts agree that the true death rate (technically, the infection fatality rate) of the coronavirus is around 0.6%, Nature explains, which is at least six times deadlier than the average seasonal flu, the World Health Organization says.
Although COVID-19 and the flu may produce some similar symptoms, they are fundamentally different illnesses and should be treated as such. The good news is that we don’t have to “close down” the entire country to slow the spread of COVID-19. We just have to do the very reasonable things that public health experts have asked of us: stay socially distanced, wear a mask in public, wash our hands frequently, and avoid large gatherings. Doing all of those things—and getting a flu vaccine—is the best way to stay healthy in the coming months.
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