The coronavirus' death rate — a calculation that divides the number of known deaths by the total number of confirmed cases — varies widely by country right now.
The global death rate is currently about 4.6%.
The chart below compares death rates in 10 countries that have confirmed deaths and more than 9,000 cases.
The US has reported more than 101,000 coronavirus cases. Italy isn't far behind, with at least 86,000 cases; China has reported just under 82,000.
But the COVID-19 death rate — the number of deaths divided by the total number of cases — from these three hard-hit countries varies wildly.
The US's coronavirus death rate is currently 1.6%, which puts it among the lowest of any country with more than 9,000 cases. Italy's, by contrast, is 10.6% and China's is 4%.
The US has reported at least 1,500 deaths, Italy has reported more than 9,100, and China has nearly 3,300 as of Friday afternoon.
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Countries' death rates change over time
Because countries' case totals and death tolls are constantly changing, their death rates are not static — nor is the global rate. Instead, the rates fluctuate constantly as new cases and deaths get reported. They also depend on how many people get tested for COVID-19 (people whose cases aren't confirmed don't get included in the official case counts).
On Monday, for example, the US's death rate was 1.2% and Italy's was 9.5%. Both are now higher.
A recent study (which has yet to be peer-reviewed) from a group of Chinese researchers suggested the rate could be lower there than the country's numbers reflect: Researchers found that the probability of a person dying after developing symptoms was about 1.4% in Wuhan, China.
A shifting global death rate
Some health experts have predicted that death rates overall will decrease as the number of cases rises and testing expands. The US's experience offers some evidence of that: Between March 6 and 27, the country's death rate dropped from 5.9% to 1.6%; the number of people tested in the US jumped to more than 626,000 from fewer than 2,000 over that time period.
Widespread testing could mean a lower death rate because most COVID-19 cases — about 80%, according to one study — are considered mild. Often, the cases tested and reported first are those with severe symptoms, since those people go to the hospital. Milder cases, on the other hand, could go uncounted or get reported later on, so the true number of infected people is likely much higher than the reported total.
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The death rate of a disease is different from its mortality rate — the latter is the number of deaths out of the number of people in an at-risk population. A death rate is not a reflection of the likelihood that a given person will die.
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, COVID-19's mortality rate is probably about 1%, which is still about 10 times the flu's mortality rate.
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