If you’re standing in Germany, the coronavirus pandemic might look a little bit less overwhelming than if you’re standing in, say, Italy or the United States. Germany’s coronavirus mortality rate is among the lowest in the world ― 1.4% as of Saturday ― while Italy’s is a shocking 9.4% and the U.S. is standing at 2.7%.
Why does the virus appear to be so much deadlier in certain places?
The answer, like the coronavirus crisis itself, is complicated. But it has to do with a few distinct factors: how much testing has been done, the overall health of the population, how the public reacted to the threat and what their health care system looks like.
Testing affects our understanding of the true mortality rate of the virus.
In March, a single Italian nursing home lost one-third of its residents, but none were tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, according to a Wall Street Journal report. There are many such incidents across Italy: People who have died while the pandemic rages around them, but since they are not tested, their deaths get recorded as something else, like pneumonia.
It’s easy to see how the scope of testing affects our data about the virus. It’s very possible that there are COVID-19 deaths that aren’t being recorded as COVID-19 deaths in many places around the world. It is also likely that there are a good number of people who get infected and recover, but their infections are going unrecorded because they don’t have symptoms, or they believe they just had a cold, or they are turned away from getting tested.
There are also different ways to define “mortality rate,” Dr. Daniel Diekema, director of the University of Iowa’s Division of Infectious Diseases, told HuffPost. Some researchers define it as the number of deaths over the number of people who were sick enough to require hospitalization. Another way to look at it is the number of deaths compared to the total number of people who actually...