Variables Make Officials Reluctant to Offer COVID-19 Death Toll Estimates

Apr 3, 2020

State health officials are reluctant to address questions about the projected death rates for COVID-19. They say infection rates, mitigation efforts, and other factors make it difficult to predict, but they outlined the formula they are using. 

Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon says the department’s projections focus on predicting hospital capacity needs, but she notes previous estimates of death rates from COVID-19.

“That ranges from 0.5 to 3 percent of positive cases.”

Governor Noem says they won’t predict the number of fatalities because of the fluid situation. When pressed, she offers the formula state officials are using. COVID-19 may infect 30 to 70 percent of the state’s population and 0.5 to 3 percent of those people could die. 

“We expect it could be a thousand people but we don’t know. and it all depends on how an individual’s body will react to the virus.”

The governor adds the death toll will depend on how responsible people are about social distancing recommendations and other mitigation efforts.

“If people don’t take personal responsibility for their health and those around them, if they don’t follow our recommendations, we just can’t possibly predict what the ramifications of that would be.”

There are plenty of factors that play in to how severe someone’s COVID-19 illness might be. Those include age and underlying health conditions. State epidemiologist Josh Clayton says another way to limit death totals is to increase testing.

“If we are able to test all individuals who we suspect may have COVID-19 infection, that mortality rate due to COVID-19 will be much smaller. It will be closer to 0.5 percent [of infected people.].”

State officials continue to say that 80% of people who contract the infection will have only minor symptoms, and many may not show symptoms at all.