COVID-19: Reported deaths in US (83,000) near reported cases in China (84,000)

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The following is a guest post by Daniel Lucey, M.D. MPH, FIDSA, FACP

If current trajectories and reporting policies of the United States and China continue, then by May 15 the number of officially reported deaths due to COVID-19 in the U.S. will probably exceed the number of officially reported cases in China.

According to the WHO Covid-19 global dashboard, as of this afternoon (May 13) China has officially reported 84,458 cases, and 4,644 deaths.

By comparison, according to the Johns Hopkins University as of 2:15pm May 13 the U.S. has reported 83,150 deaths and 1,379,756 cases.

On Tuesday, China announced it is planning to test everyone in Wuhan, a city of approximately 11 million people in a short period of time, perhaps by the end of this month.  Therefore, more patients might be diagnosed by laboratory testing. If they have no symptoms, then will they be officially reported to WHO by China?

Daniel Lucey, M.D. MPH, FIDSA, FACP, is an infectious diseases physician and adjunct professor of infectious diseases at Georgetown University Medical Center, a senior scholar at the Georgetown University O’Neil Institute, Anthropology Research Associate, Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and a member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America Global Health Committee. He has responded to, and monitored information on outbreaks since 2001, and has provided a series of updates and analysis on what is now the COVID-19 pandemic in Science Speaks posts since Jan. 6, first published Jan. 7. This is his 23st update on questions raised by the continued spread of, and responses to the virus that causes COVID-19.

3 thoughts on “COVID-19: Reported deaths in US (83,000) near reported cases in China (84,000)

  1. Dr. Bertha Serwa Ayi

    Dear Dr. Lucey,
    Thank you for your post. I have often wondered how China with a population of 1.4 billion reported only 84,458 cases while the US has reported over 1 million cases. Is it possible China was just not forthcoming? When it was limited to China it appeared credible, however the death toll and disease in Italy (with a population of 62 million people) and Spain make the Chinese numbers quite frankly doubtful. During the Spanish Influenza Pandemic, most nations hid their true numbers. Spain was not involved in the war and was the most honest in its reporting. In May 1918 it reported 8 million deaths, thus earning the reputation of Spanish Influenza. Could history be repeating itself? When Japan wanted the world to take a risk and host the summer Olympics, it swore that the disease was under control. When the offer was rejected it suddenly reported a surge of cases and declared a state of emergency. Was it a true surge or a backlog of cases it was gambling with? Similarly Russia is reporting 11,000 cases a day for almost ten days in a row. How can this be possible? Is it a backlog of cases now being reported? Time will tell. Thanks for your post.

    1. Lutetia Li

      Dear Dr Ayi,

      It is entirely possible that the Chinese numbers are not forthcoming, but I just want to give you some of my personal experiences since I was in China from Jan 20 to Feb 28. Within a week from the Wuhan lock down, the entire country was doing shelter-in-place. This was around the time of Chinese New Year, a weeklong celebration equivalent to Thanksgiving and Christmas combined. Even before there was any official guideline limiting gatherings, all of my relatives were canceling dinners and visits with each other. The atmosphere was much more serious.

      I was in Shanghai by Jan 27, and the city was a complete ghost town. Imagine a place as crowded as Times Square reduced to less than 10 people out and about. That was when the reported cases in Shanghai was around 80 with 300 suspected cases. Those numbers got us so scared and worried. Shanghai is comparable to/larger than New York in size and population. The ”ghost town” status lasted way past Feb 28 when I left. When I came out of quarantine after returning to the US on March 14, things were starting to heat up here. Imagine my shock when I hear that NY is still going on business as usual when their case number was in the hundreds and quickly ramped up to thousands. Similarly, in many places across the U.S., people didn’t stay at home despite the rising case numbers.

      Interestingly, here in the U.S., staying at home is such a contentious topic. Back in Shanghai (and many places outside of Hubei Province), we were allowed to go out and even to eat at sit-down restaurants that were still operating, but people just didn’t want to go because we were scared of getting sick. The atmosphere and people’s tendencies are drastically different.

      In China, at first it was also just a 14 day stay-at-home rule, but then it was extended for at least 2 months. The most important thing was people really tried and stayed at home, despite the tremendous losses. To this day, in the US we’ve only had maybe a 14-day period where most people stayed at home. Most states weren’t able to successfully extend the period, and now many are opening back up.

      So with my personal experience I am not surprised at the unbelievable numbers. At the end of the day, it’s not whether the country has 1.4 billion people vs 328 million people, it’s how many of those people stayed at home and kept at it. Governments and policies matter, but we also have to look at how people react on the ground.

  2. Ken Wilson

    Dr. Lucey,

    Thank you for this reminder. If there were mass graves in China, our government would be gleefully showing the satellite images.

    Ken Wilson MD


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