The CDC recently reported that total cases of COVID-19 to date in the United States are eight times higher than the official tally (currently, as I write this, at about 14.5 million). However unprepossessing this news may have seemed, this number is vital to making sense of all the others.
Consider that the terrible mortality toll of COVID in the United States, now at over 280,000 deaths, is roughly 2 percent of the total reported cases. That is an extremely alarming infection fatality rate, roughly 20 times that of influenza. If, however, the actual number of infections is nearly an order of magnitude higher, then the infection fatality rate is an order of magnitude lower. An infection fatality rate of roughly 0.2 percent still makes COVID twice as lethal as influenza — but that’s much better than 20.