COVID-19 is not the Flu.

A huge misconception about the SARS-Cov-2 Coronavirus is that it’s similar to seasonal fluenza. Well, both are respiratory infections (as are colds) but that’s where the similarities stop. And the more we learn about this new virus, the stranger it appears.

  • The Flu’s R0 number is 1.3 whereas COVID-19 is 2-2.5, meaning it’s about twice as contagious;
  • The incubation period for the flu is four days whereas COVID-19 is 14 days; meaning it can spread far and wide before it’s detected.
  • The average flu hospitalization rate is 2% whereas COVID-19 is 19%; meaning that even for the young and healthy, it’s more likely to be costly and leave lasting disability.
  • The flu’s case fatality rate is 0.1% whereas COVID-19 is 1-3.4%;
  • Currently, there is no COVID-19 vaccine whereas there is are effective vaccines for most flu virus strains;

There is, however, one way that SARS-Cov-2 is like the flu — an infected person is most infectious before they develop symptoms. This has been known about flu for decades, and why it hasn’t influenced public health advice much during the pandemic is hard to fathom.

With social distancing now starting to pay dividends even in the US, many are starting to advocate for a return to normal, but they DO NOT understand the reality. This pandemic may slow, but will not end due to warm weather or social distancing along. If we simply go back to normal, we will certainly create a “second wave” and again overwhelm our health care system. So what about over countries that have weathered the first wave without a national lockdown? There are only a few, and they all had acted on the lessons of the SARS and MERS scares of recent years.

South Korea, for example, had 9,000 SARS-CoV-2 tests ready on the day the first indigenous case was reported, and quickly scaled up to delivering over 20,000 tests per day. They didn’t just test those who felt ill and requested it, but the second level contacts of those found to be infected. Then they published the locations of known cases–and the known movements of known carriers on a smart phone app so they citizens could avoid the infection without the need to stay home. They issue surgical masks to the general public (because the science of the last two decades has made clear that that works) and filled the airwaves and social media with training on how to use them and other measures effectively.

The results have been dramatic. After an initial spike, and despite crushing population density, South Korea has turned the COVID-19 growth curve on it’s head and started going back to normal.

We CAN do the same, but only the way they did–only be the use of science and common sense, and the advice of smart people.