Debunking the Coronavirus Myths

By Albert L. Kelley, Esq.

A lot of myths have erupted about the Coronavirus. I want to address some of the major ones.  

First there is the comparison to the influenza. A common argument is that more people die of the flu than coronavirus. That is false. In the 2018-19 flu season, only 34,200 Americans died. That is roughly half of how many have died from coronavirus in just two months. While the 2017-18 season saw roughly 80,000 people die from influenza, that year was an anomaly with the average being between 12,000 and 61,000 according to the CDC. Therefore, the Coronavirus has already exceeded the high end of the national average flu deaths. With current coronavirus deaths increasing at a rate of 3,000 per day, we will likely pass the 2017-18 flu deaths by May 5.

Next the coronavirus is compared to the Spanish Flu which killed 675,000 Americans between 1918 and 1919.  The Spanish Flu lasted from March 1918 through summer 1919 and ultimately killed one-third of the planet’s population. Worldwide, countries are now asking their citizens to practice social distancing and shutting down economies. The argument being raised is that this was not the case in 1918; the country remained open while the virus was fought.  Let’s look at the facts and not the myth.  Medicine was not as developed in 1918 as it is today. So, the death rate then was bound to be higher.  Also, the spread was harder to control. At the time, we were involved with World War I (July 1914-November 1918). This meant containing the virus initially was difficult. Soldiers interacted without the ability to socially distance themselves. As to shutting down the economy, this was done on a city-by-city basis, similar to what is happening today. In Philadelphia where the city leaders downplayed the significance of the flu and proceeded with a city parade, in 72 hours their hospitals were overflowing and 2,600 people died shortly thereafter. Ultimately over 15,000 died there. However, in St. Louis the city leaders saw the risk of the disease early and shut down the city, except for essential businesses. As a result, they saw the lowest death rate of any large city in the country. Many other cities also imposed restrictions and saw drastic drops in death from the Spanish flu. Some of these restrictions lasted for several months. However, once those restrictions were lifted, a second wave came through, even deadlier than the first. Those cities had to reissue the restrictions. In some cities like Chicago, the restrictions were lifted gradually with better results. As soldiers came home from WW1, they brought with them the third wave of the Spanish Flu. The point we take away is that the lessons we learned from the Spanish Flu are helping us today. Shutdowns work, but only if they are lifted gradually once the virus is under control.

The next argument is that at the current rate it would take 29.7 years for the virus to affect everyone in the country. First of all, this is a fallacious argument as there is no thought to the virus affecting everyone in the country.  But for the sake of the argument, if the virus continued at the same rate over 29.7 years, we would lose over 1,095,000 people a year. That is twice as many as all cancer deaths and 1.75 times as many deaths as caused by heart disease.  Totally, over 29.7 years, more than 32,500,000 would die.   That equals 10% of the current population, or thought of in another way, the total population of Florida and Georgia.   

The next argument is that the coronavirus count is inflated because hospitals are exaggerating the numbers so they can get more federal funding. It is not quite as simple as that. First, simply listing a patient as a COVID19 patient does nothing financially for the hospital; they only get paid for the actual treatment. Similarly, listing COVID as a cause of death does nothing financially. COVID19 has been coded (like all hospital procedures today) with other respiratory illnesses. So, treating a COVID patient is compensated the same as treating any respiratory condition. Therefore, there is no benefit to listing it differently. However, if a respiratory condition requires a ventilator the compensation is higher. There is a slight benefit in that uninsured COVID patients are covered by Medicare when they otherwise would not be. Plus, for those patients covered by Medicare, Medicare will pay a slightly higher premium for COVID cases during the public health emergency. Now the more important part: if a person dies and COVID is listed as the cause of death when it was not, the coroner would be committing a felony. I do not know many coroner’s who would be willing to risk prison to help a hospital inflate their numbers. Let’s go even further. Since most of the medical bills are submitted to insurance carriers, any doctor submitting a false claim would be committing insurance fraud, subjecting themselves to loss of their medical license and five years in prison. If they are applying to Medicare, they are committing federal fraud and can be fined three times the amount billed, along with five years in prison. The likelihood of that many doctors being willing to take that risk so the hospital can get additional funding is highly unlikely (Remember that many of the doctors in the hospital are not employed by the hospital, but are actually in private practice).

As you hear more coronavirus myths, let me know and we will address them in the future.

Al Kelley is a Florida business law attorney located in Key West and previously taught business law, personnel law, and labor law at St. Leo University.  He is also the author of four law books: (“Basics of Business Law” “Basics of Florida’s Small Claims Court”, “Basics of Florida’s Landlord/Tenant Law” and “Basics of Starting a Florida Business” (Absolutely Amazing e-Books)). This article is being offered as a public service and is not intended to provide specific legal advice.  If you have any questions about legal issues, you should confer with a licensed Florida attorney.