COVID-19 has brought high levels of attention to coronavirus, which few outside the microbiology community had heard of even after two pandemics in 17 years, SARS and MERS.

Terms like ventilators, respirators, and N95 masks were also less commonly thrown about. While it's difficult to trust corporate journalism doomsday narratives one thing is sure; coronavirus has already killed more many people in three months as flu does in its average six-month season. COVID-19 hasn't reached 2018 flu season levels yet but it likely will.(1)

There is a lot of talk about ventilators but articles leave out something important. By the time you need one, for any reason, your mortality rate is high. That's not just the fault of coronavirus or the flu. It's that your lungs have stopped working.

An analysis of 5,700 patients treated at Northwell Health’s New York City metro area hospitals(2) shows that even at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York, the death rate after going on ventilators was about the same. And they shared comorbidities like obesity, risk of heart disease, and diabetes.

Respiratory distress is a killer. The deaths when that happens are about the same, and even the deaths when going on a ventilator aren't changed by a lot. Historically, people who have needed a ventilator for any reason have an average 80 percent death rate while even with this pandemic stressing medical personnel, it was only 88 percent. Too small a difference to be statistically meaningful.

In the analysis, 20 percent of COVID-19 patients treated at those facilities died but they were hospitalized because they had severe symptoms. For most people, coronavirus just meant a bad cold, but for those with preexisting conditions or the elderly, the risk of death from any respiratory distress is higher.  The average age of deaths was 63 and fatalities also often shared comorbidities like obesity and heart issues.  Some were taking angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors or angiotensin II receptor blockers, as you'd expect.

Lifestyle-related comorbidities like obesity (and certainly smoking) are risk factors for every serious disease.

COVID-19 is going to pass and with hope we will take flu more seriously this year while we prepare for the next pandemic we know will occur. I co-wrote a short book in 2017 (now available free of charge as a download) discussing what the next pandemic might be and coronavirus was on the list. 

I wrote the corresponding author to ask if diabetes was broken out by type 1 and type 2 and I'll add the response if I receive one.

Regardless of whether or not the health records available broke that out, if you want to not be a statistic, it is a good idea to be thinking about lifestyle comorbidities rather than hoping for a vaccine. Eat sensibly, get some exercise. You can't do anything about genetic predisposition and age is the big risk factor for everything, but control what you can control.


(1) Who knows? Coronavirus is getting a lot of attention so if someone had the flu and antibodies, they are going to be called a COVID-19 death, the same way it was once fashionable to claim anyone who got lung cancer and had spent time around someone who smoked was a secondhand or thirdhand smoke casualty - it could lead to money from the Big Tobacco settlement. So look for about a thousand  government-funded serosurvey articles linking everything to coronavirus for the next three years. Activists are also linking it to 5G cell phones and GMOs.

(2) Northwell Health says it is the largest network in New York, covering the 11 million of the New York City, Westchester County, and Long Island area.