COVID-19 Is Not Like the Flu. Not in Dallas County. Not Anywhere.

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A lab worker tests for COVID-19.
The thought is a lot like the novel coronavirus itself. Dangerous, malicious and hard to stymie. The coronavirus isn't that bad, it starts out. It's just another kind of flu, maybe a little nasty, but not that dangerous. It's ridiculous that we're all having to stay inside.

You hear it on social media. You hear it from Republican lawmakers. You hear it now from the president, who's picked up the line about not letting "the cure be worse than the disease" from right-wing media.

Last week, you heard it at a Dallas City Council meeting.

"What's the material difference between the regular flu and this version of the flu?" City Council member David Blewett asked.

"The difference in terms of significance? I mean the mortality rate ..." Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Philip Huang said, before Blewett cut him off.

"I haven't read that there's a huge difference in mortality," Blewett said.

"Oh no, it's about 13 times more on the conservative end to 34 times more," Huang said.

"That's what I read about Italy, which has an older population. I haven't read about that in the States," Blewett replied.

Already in Dallas County, we're starting to see the difference Blewett blithely wondered about.

According to data from Dallas County Health and Human Services, 918 people in the county tested positive for the flu between March 1 and March 14. Of those 918, 148 ended up in the hospital and 16 ended up in intensive care. Two of those who tested positive died. They're the only two influenza deaths in Dallas County since Feb. 1.

Over a similar two-week period, March 10-24, 169 people in Dallas County have tested positive for the coronavirus. Sixty-one of those people have been hospitalized, while 21 have ended up in the ICU. Five of those who tested positive for the coronavirus died from their illness.

Admittedly, many Dallas residents with coronavirus have likely not been tested, because of a lack of capacity or a lack of symptoms, but the same could be said for the flu. How many times have you suffered from flu-like symptoms and taken Theraflu instead of trekking to the doctor's office?

Among those who tested positive for the coronavirus in Dallas County, 12.4% ended up in intensive care. Among those who tested positive for the flu, fewer than 2% did. Among those who tested positive for the flu, less than one fifth of one percent died. For coronavirus, in this limited sample, that number was about 3%, 15 times higher — and right in the range suggested by Dr. Huang.