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Society remains in the grip of the worldwide coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. As each town, city, and country attempts to restore some aspect of normal life, they are confronted with 2 nearly identical questions: What is the individual risk of acquiring severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and ultimately COVID-19? What is the risk for the population that renewed activities will fuel a surge of new cases of disease and potentially overwhelm the health care system? Neither of these questions can be answered with precision, and yet they have come to dominate everyday conversation.
Some data are helpful to understand the risk. Overall, since March 1, 2020, the overall cumulative hospitalization rate for COVID-19 in the US was estimated at 67.9 per 100 000 or about 0.068%.1 In addition, the major risk factors for mortality related to COVID-19 are now well-defined—age and underlying comorbid conditions.2-4 About 50 million individuals in the US are older than 65 years of age.5 Based on various data sources,6-9 about 75% of the more than 100 000 COVID-related deaths in the US to date have occurred among these older individuals; thus the risk of death in this population is about 1.50 per 1000 or 0.15%. One-third to half of the deaths in some US states have involved residents in nursing homes or other long-term care centers.10 Approximately 1.5 million individuals live in these facilities in the US,11,12 and if approximately one-third of the 100 000 deaths in the US have occurred among individuals from these facilities, the risk of death in this population is about 22 per 1000 or 2.2%.
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Bauchner H, Fontanarosa P. Thinking of Risk in the Era of COVID-19. JAMA. 2020;324(2):151–153. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.10242
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