Stuart McDonald

Let’s dispel the myth that coronavirus victims were all at death’s door

Let's dispel the myth that coronavirus victims were all at death's door
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There has been a bit of an unpleasant and inaccurate narrative over recent days that the majority of Covid-19 deaths were people who were 'at death’s door' in any case. Some have been making the point that these people died 'with', rather than 'of', the disease. It's important to address that.

A bulletin has been put together on this by the team at the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group, but here are some brief thoughts from me. I’ll refer to the recent update from the Intensive Care National Audit and Research Centre (ICNARC) (click here to read the full report).

The first thing that jumps out from the medical history section of Table 1 in the report (below) is that 93 per cent of those critically ill with Covid-19 were 'able to live without assistance in daily activities' prior to developing the disease. That typically suggests reasonable health in these people.

Secondly, just seven per cent of 2,124 intensive care admissions had 'very severe comorbidities'. That’s significantly less than typical viral pneumonia patients (as illustrated in the table above). So 19 out of 20 were free of the most severe life-limiting conditions before they were struck down with coronavirus.

Lastly, for now, the age distribution is also striking. Most critical cases, as shown in the chart below, are aged between 50 and 80. People of this age, without severe comorbidities, could reasonably have expected to have years of life ahead of them before they contracted this disease.

There is, of course, a danger of drawing conclusions from ICU admissions that I ought to bring out. Given capacity limits, there will inevitably be some triage going on. This could involve, for example, admitting those with the best chance of survival. This will skew the data to some extent.

But still this data covers all admissions from the start of the epidemic until 3 April. For much of that period, we have been told that spare capacity was available. This means that the data should not be skewed too much away from the typical critical case.

Hopefully then this detail goes some way to addressing the false narrative that these people would have died soon anyway, and we’ll hear rather less of it from journalists and commentators who ought to know better.

The above article reflects the personal views of the author, not any organisation he is associated with