Living by Numbers — Coronavirus is No Reason for Panic

Ron Gutman
5 min readMar 2, 2020


Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Following the media and the public panic around Coronavirus in the past few days, I feel that it’s a good time to put things in proportions and move the conversations to one of numbers and facts so we can all calm down and focus on dealing with what’s important.

I started following COVID-19 (AKA the novel Coronavirus) in mid January while working on our LL&F Club event at Stanford University. Unfortunately, even back then it evolved to become a good candidate for the Risk Mitigation Pillar of Living Long and Flourishing. To understand it better, I brought together world class experts (like Dr. Gary Schoolnik, a Stanford Professor emeritus of infectious disease who’s working recently on the rapid development of diagnostic tools and antivirals for the threatening Coronavirus and following the topic closely with his colleagues at Fudan University and with the US and China CDC’s) to educate us and lead a conversation on the virus, its prospects and how to handle them.

Working with real experts was enlightening. Even with uncertainties, and there were many back then, we were able to draw a coherent picture of the situation and create the right composed warning sign to bring “all hands on deck to protect against Coronavirus.” It took the media and world some time to wake up, but when they did, things went out of control quickly and panic took over. The message that is being broadcasted everywhere today is confused and confusing.

It’s a bit naive to expect businesses that are getting paid “by the click” to not try to get their readers to click as much as possible, and as we all know, FUD (Fear/Uncertainty/Doubt) creates anxiety, that in turn drives most human being to seek more information to reduce FUD and help make the right decision. This creates a vicious cycle that unfortunately incentivises some sources of information to sometimes pour more “fuel on the fire” than they should.

My take on what’s going on is that the novel Coroniavirus should be managed as an amplified version of the flu. Yes, just like with the flu, we need to avoid Coronavirus contagion as much as we can — first because it’s just not fun to get the flu (even though 80% of folks who would get it would only have mild symptoms) and second because when transmitted to older sicker people- it can have dire consequences (just like the flu does, but in somewhat higher numbers).

I do believe that COVID-19 is a serious issue to protect against and I was vocal about it before others were but nonetheless, we need put things in perspective, and understand the statistic:

Estimated range of annual burden of flu in the U.S. since 2010 (source:
  1. According to the CDC, at least 32 Million Americans experienced flu (influenza) illnesses this current season and unfortunately, more than 18,000 died. In the entire world we know of 3048 deaths due to Coronavirus and 85,855 infected (as of March 2, 2020), which is odrers of magnitude less. Moreover, according to the CDC, in the 2017–2018 flu season, in the U.S. alone, we had around 45,000,000 cases of flu, and 61,000 resulted in deaths! This means that around this time of the year a couple of years ago, hundreds of people died daily from the flu — but nobody really panicked about it… I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but by analogy, it’s time to take a deep breath and now panic not either!
  2. In the case of Coronavirus, fatality rates for people under 50 (who have been infected) are less than 0.2%, and for people who have no other morbidities it’s less than 0.9%. Those two numbers are likely even lower because as most experts agree, there are many more people who were infected and have not reported it. Dr. Schoolnik, who led the discussion about Coronavirus in our LL&F meeting at Stanford said the ratio in similar pandemics has been around 1 to 10. But for the sake of the argument, let’s take the worse case scenario as of today, and in that case (even if you’re in China) your likelihood to die of Coronavirus if you’re below 50 and have no comorbidities is: 0.00000057*0.2*0.9 = 0.0000001 which is 0.00001%, or one out of 10,000,000. To compare: randomly dying in a plane crash has about the same odds! And BTW, to make the point event better, death by hot tap water in the US is twice as likely and happens to 1 in 5 million people…
  3. Now let’s take the other end of the risk spectrum — the riskiest population. Even for people above 80 with cardiovascular disease (which is the highest risk group) there’s a lot more place for optimism than fear (even in China today!): 0.00000057*14.8*10.5 = 0.00008588 = 0.001%, or one in 100,000. Compare this risk to the risk of dying in a car accident in the US as a pedestrian, which sadly is 1 in 43,000, (more than twice more likely!) Or the risk of dying by falling from stairs or steps which is almost the same at 1 in 130,654. But nobody stops using stairs because of it!

To summarize, I do agree that serious precautions should be taken by all of us — individually and as a society (see the Healthy HACKS⁺ our experts recommended in our last meetup at Stanford.) This is mostly because we should slow down the spread of COVID-19 so we don’t overwhelm our hospitals and clinics for the benefits of the small percentage of people who would need medical attention when they get the virus. But at the same time, exactly like we don’t panic when we hear the statistics about flu, and we don’t stop flying on airplanes, and we definitely don’t stop using hot tap water or stairs, we should take a deep breath, keep living our lives mindfully, and follow the simple steps all the experts agree can help slow down the spread of the disease, particularly to people who are in the high-risk segments.



Ron Gutman

Inventor, investor, serial technology & healthcare entrepreneur, Stanford lecturer. Constant learning smiling and caring for others help me remain an optimist