The US's coronavirus death rate is currently 1.6% — one of the lowest of any hard-hit country. Here's how it compares to places like China and Italy.

·4 min read
face mask new york coronavirus
A man wears a mask to prevent exposure to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while walking past the New York Stock Exchange in New York, March 17, 2020.

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

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.

covid 19 death rates per country march 27
covid 19 death rates per country march 27

Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Countries' death rates change over time

More than 593,000 people worldwide have been infected with the coronavirus, and at least 27,000 have died.

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.

death rates per country as of 3 23
death rates per country as of 3 23

Business Insider/Skye Gould/Andy Kiersz, data from Johns Hopkins University

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

As of Friday, the global coronavirus death rate hovered around 4.6%, according to data from Johns Hopkins — that's higher than the World Health Organization's March 3 estimate of about 3.4%.

global death rate over time 3 23 20 insider
global death rate over time 3 23 20 insider

Business Insider/Andy Kiersz, data from WHO

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.

coronavirus testing usa
Healthcare workers from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment test a long line of people for COVID-19 at the state's first drive-up testing center on March 12, 2020 in Denver, Colorado.

Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

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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