LIMA — Scientists have estimated anywhere from 40% to 70% of the world’s population may eventually be infected with the novel coronavirus, which surpassed 115,000 cases in the U.S. this weekend.
What would an outbreak of that scale look like in Lima?
At 70% prevalence, thousands of people would require hospitalization — even those typically thought of as low risk — while hundreds more could die of complications associated with COVID-19, according to an analysis of Census information and CDC mortality and hospitalization data from February and early March.
While several people in Allen County have tested positive, there is no evidence at the moment that 70% of residents have been infected. But the COVID-19 calculator, developed by Bellefontaine physician group Hickory Medical, shows what an outbreak would look like in different parts of the U.S. if the coronavirus infected 50% to 70% of the population.
“These are not hard predictions for how things will be but a way of getting a sense of potential scope,” said Dr. Ross Kauffman, an assistant professor and director of public health for Ohio Northern University, who helped develop an earlier version of the COVID-19 calculator.
“Given the fact that this is a new virus and no one has been exposed previously, there are few immune individuals in the population and the disease can spread relatively freely,” Kauffman explained. “That combines with the high transmissibility of the virus to result in a substantial proportion of the population infected.”
Still, the early calculations show that a widespread outbreak of the coronavirus could overwhelm hospitals in the region.
Take Allen County, for example. If 70% of the population here were infected with the coronavirus, that would account for about 73,000 people. Current estimates show anywhere from 11,000 to 17,000 people would have serious enough complications to merit hospitalization, while another 2,400 to 5,800 could need an intensive care unit and anywhere from 700 to 1,500 could die.
That worst-case scenario may never come to pass. But even if only 50% of Allen County’s population were infected before a vaccine is available, thousands would need access to intensive care units and hundreds more could die.
People in low-risk categories are not immune either.
CDC estimates show anywhere from 14.3% to 20.8% of adults ages 20-44 with COVID-19 may be hospitalized, even though the mortality rate for those adults is believed to be about 0.1% to 0.2%.
“Just because you are a young adult does not mean that you are immune in any way, especially from hospitalization and serious consequences,” Kauffman said. “The other thing is, just because you survive doesn’t mean there might not be lasting lung damage from the serious pneumonia that we’re seeing.”
Ohio’s new social distancing measures could help slow the spread of the virus, easing the burden on hospitals and lowering the infection rate until widespread testing is available. But experts say it could still take 12 to 18 months for a vaccine to be available.
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at 567-242-0456.