The Latest CDC Estimates of COVID-19's Infection Fatality Rate Vary Dramatically With Age

In younger age groups, the estimated risk is substantially lower than the overall IFR for the seasonal flu.


Although the results of a nationwide antibody study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have not been published yet, the initial findings reportedly indicate that less than 10 percent of the U.S. population has been infected by the COVID-19 virus. "The preliminary results on the first round show that a majority of our nation—more than 90 percent of the population—remains susceptible," CDC Director Robert Redfield said during congressional testimony last week.

That finding is roughly consistent with the CDC's most recent "best estimate," based on studies of the epidemic's impact in other countries, that the overall COVID-19 infection fatality rate (IFR)—the share of Americans infected by the virus who will die as a result—is about 0.65 percent. According to Worldometer's tally, the current death toll in the United States is about 210,000. The CDC's IFR estimate therefore implies that around 32 million Americans, a bit less than 10 percent of the U.S. population, have been infected.

Assuming that the CDC's nationwide IFR estimate proves to be about right, there are still a couple of important complications. Regional antibody studies by the CDC, using blood drawn for routine tests unrelated to COVID-19, suggest that the IFR varies widely from one part of the country to another—from 0.1 percent in Utah to 1.4 percent in Connecticut as of early May, for example. Recent CDC estimates indicate that the IFR also varies dramatically by age—from 0.003 percent among people 19 or younger to 5.4 percent among people in their 70s.

According to those "best estimates," which were published this month as an update to the CDC's COVID-19 Planning Scenarios, the IFR is 0.02 percent for 20-to-49-year-olds and 0.5 percent for 50-to-69-year-olds. The CDC did not include an IFR estimate for people 80 or older. But judging from crude case fatality rates (deaths divided by confirmed cases), the IFR for people in that age group would be substantially higher than 5.4 percent.

The CDC's latest death counts indicate that the crude case fatality rate is around 28 percent for patients 85 or older and 18 percent for 75-to-84-year-olds. That rate falls to about 8 percent for 65-to-74-year-olds, 2 percent for 50-to-64-year-olds, 0.6 percent for patients in their 40s, 0.2 percent for patients in their 30s, 0.06 percent for patients in their late teens and early 20s, 0.02 percent for 5-to-17-year-olds, and 0.04 percent for children 4 and younger.

The CDC's overall IFR estimate implies that COVID-19, while not nearly as lethal as many people initially feared, is about six times as deadly as the seasonal flu. But as with the flu, the risk is highest for the elderly, and the difference in the case of COVID-19 is huge. The estimated IFR for people in their 70s is 11 times the rate for 50-to-69-year-olds, 270 times the rate for 20-to-49-year-olds, and 1,800 times the rate for people younger than 20. In the latter two groups, the estimated IFR is lower than the overall IFR for the seasonal flu.

If the CDC's estimates are in the right ballpark, they still do not settle the ongoing debate about how best to protect people in high-risk groups: through broad restrictions that aim to reduce virus transmission or more targeted measures that try to insulate older, less healthy individuals from the epidemic until effective vaccines can be deployed. But the stark differences reflected in age-specific fatality rates clarify what the main goal of government policy and private precautions should be.

NEXT: Ohio State Professor Apologizes for 'Hurt, Sadness, Frustration, Fatigue, Exhaustion and Pain' Caused By Pro-Football Article

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Nothing will change..Panic is in charge .

      1. Fauci has been the D.J. for these last eight months of shitty public health music.

        The song fits. So too does, “Stop Me If You Think That You’ve Heard This One Before.

        When to stop the lockdowns? “How Soon Is Now?”

        1. the boy with the thorn in his side.

          1. I quit working at shoprite and now I make $65-85 per/h. How? I’m working online! My work didn’t exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new…JGh after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn’t be happier.

            Here’s what I do…>> Click here

          2. Google pays for every Person every hour online working from home job. I have received $23K in this month easily Cvb and I earns every weeks $5K to 8$K on the internet. Every Person join this working easily by just just open this website and follow instructions………….. Visit Here

    1. Genetics are another tool of white supremacy. Elderly and obese Black Americans are disproportionately killed by the Trump virus!

      1. I make up to $90 an hour on-line from my home. My story is that I give up operating at walmart to paintings on-line and with a bit strive I with out problem supply in spherical $40h to $86h…NGf someone turned into top to me by way of manner of sharing this hyperlink with me, so now i’m hoping i ought to help a person else accessible through sharing this hyperlink…

        —————————–► Click here

      2. Rabbi? I didn’t know the Jewish religion was based on hate.

        1. You must not be Palestinian.

    2. Fear of death is pervasive…marketing by religions has been effective.

    3. Start making cash online work easily from home.i have received a paycheck of $24K in this month by working online Abq from home.i am a student and i just doing this job in my spare ?Visit Here

  2. “If the CDC’s estimates are in the right ballpark, they still do not settle the ongoing debate about how best to protect people in high-risk groups[.]”

    Fortunately, this is not a debate that needs settling. People in high-risk groups can make their own choices, tailored to their particularized health needs, in consultation with medical professionals.

    Unfortunately, far too many people seem to have confined themselves to a public health paradigm where the necessity of incessant government intervention is presumed.

    1. As one who is statistically vulnerable at 87, I’m not concerned….I’ve had a good life and don’t look forward to the next election.

      1. I’m 61 this year, smoke 3 cigars a day, copd, bad ticker, I’m not concerned either. If I lived in fear of everything that could kill me I couldn’t really live.

        1. 43 copd pack a day with a fib since having Covid and I couldn’t think of a better time to be dead.

  3. Don’t let any of this distract you from the fact that Jose Altuve hit .219 this year. Hard af to hit a baseball when you don’t know what pitch is coming.

    1. Approaching the Mendoza Line.

      The 2017 batting stats for the Astros look a little too good…

  4. So it is science that there is no need for federal or state “solutions” to what is just another flu.
    Local medical professionals can advise individuals what proper precautions to take, according to age and other risk groupings; politicians need to revoke all panic induced executiger “emergency” orders, and return to proper legislation.

  5. I’ll take things anyone with half a brain already knew for $1,000, Alex.

  6. COVID may save Social Security

    1. Conspicuously targets the biggest drains on US society, that’s for sure.

  7. No kidding.

  8. If the younger age groups would use a little common sense there wouldn’t be a need for forcing people to follow rules.
    Ayn Rand expecting people to see the value in others and treat them as such is a huge assumption especially with self-absorbed Americans.

    1. Lefties on Ayn Rand is one of my favorite idiocies.

    2. What kind of comment is that?

  9. It’s closer to 0.3% dude. The CDC is hedging. So 3 times as deadly as the AVERAGE seasonal flu.

    Let’s say 2 million dead. Just a guess. That is about what the 1968 Hong Kong flu was that time period. With half the population. And no fucking lockdowns or panic.

    Thanks lefties for doing a great job of whining.

    1. The media cannot be forgiven for their promotion of this shit.
      There must be blood.

      1. Same goes for Blue state politicians.

        We need to break the back of tyranny…again.

    2. That Hong Kong flu death estimate is worldwide, not just the US. .3% of 7 billion people is 20 million, not 2 million.

      What figures are you trying to compare?

      1. 0.3% IFR is of infected people, not total people. You never get 100% of people infected. Even the 1917 flu only infected 20-33% of the US.

        IFR for both the Hong Kong flu (1968) and the Asian Flu (1957) was higher than 0.3%. Neither had lockdowns or any major government response in the US. (In fact, I’ve briefly looked into contemporary news coverage of the 1968 pandemic, and it was almost non-existent).

        1. Goddamn it sqrlsy – kill yourself. And don’t fuck it up this time.

          1. Oh wait, you’re not sqrlsy? You can live then.

  10. The fatties will be in here soon to say you hate your grandparents if you dont fear covid.

    1. One of them beat you by about 4 minutes. Even worked in a dig at their favorite boogie-woman, Ayn Rand for good measure.

    2. If I have to choose between another year (maybe) of my 92 year old grandma shitting herself in a wheelchair or my eight year old living a normal life, I’ll choose my kid.

      If my grandma had the cognitive capacity to understand what was happening to her, I’m sure she’d choose my kid too.

    3. Some may want the life insurance. come on granny go sit with the crowd.

  11. If the CDC’s estimates are in the right ballpark, they still do not settle the ongoing debate about how best to protect people in high-risk groups

    Mandating that nursing homes accept patients that are positive for COVID-19 is obviously the best way, duh. /sarc

  12. In Canada the flu has 22 deaths per 100 000 death. The Wuhan virus is 23.

    The flu kills across all age groups. The Wuhan mostly 70 and older. And if you’re healthy you can survive it. I suspect it may even grow weaker with time.

    This is a great panic we’re witnessing.

  13. Haven’t we had a pretty good idea that this was the case since March sometime?

    1. The great scam about all this is we act like we ‘don’t know’ much about it but in reality we know enough. This isn’t so ‘novel’ as T-cells are proving.

      This whole thing better end soon. What a farce.

    2. yeah, the cruise ship data from February put the fatality rate at around 0.6%. and the NYC hospitalization data showed that 85% of those hospitalized were too old or too sick to be working anyway.

      1. Some of us screamed this at Sullum months ago and he refused to report it even those the science was clear right from the beginning. I guess deference to government lackeys at the CDC is a Libertarian position now.

        1. The Diamond Princess petri dish basically told us what we needed to know.

          1. …and the aircraft carrier. Low herd immunity threshold and radically skewed age demographics wrt outcomes show that – except for Sweden – the world wide governmental response to this has been insane.

    3. First-Second week of April, for me. But I was pretty concerned before then. Glad I was wrong.

      Everything should have gone back to normal by May, at the latest. Lock up the old farts, if you want, and Manhattan Project yourself a vaccine, but let everyone else get back to work. Nope. Orange Man Bad.


      1. “Manhattan Project yourself a vaccine”

        But why? That CDC doctor last week told us that masks will be more effective. And not just masks, for months the CDC has been peddling “face coverings”. We should’ve simply pulled our t-shirts up over our noses back in March and gone about our business.

        1. The bug kills old farts. 75 and over. True, lots of stuff does, but we’re a rich society, we can afford the spend to protect them in this one area.

          If a vax can be made that immunizes a group of people who would otherwise suffer 5-6% fatalities plus, and who knows how many hospitalizations, I say you do it.

      2. Trump was right when he said open by Easter.

        So of course the left dug in with lockdowns forever.

        1. I wish the left had as much power as you attribute to them. Sorry dude, it wasn’t a nightmare, Trump is actually the president.

  14. “Latest” CDC estimates = almost three weeks old.

    Wow, way to be Johnny on the spot with the spin Sullum. Too busy spending quality time with your copy of Cuties?

  15. (ASPR) have developed five COVID-19 pandemic Planning Scenarios that are designed to help inform decisions by public health officials who use mathematical modeling, and by mathematical modelers throughout the federal government. Models developed using the data provided in the planning scenario tables can help evaluate the potential effects of different community mitigation strategies (e.g., social distancing). The planning scenarios may also be useful to hospital administrators in assessing resource needs and can be used in conjunction with the COVID-19Surge Tool.

  16. “90% remain susceptible….” Those people are infected with hedinaz syndrome

  17. “more than 90 percent of the population—remains susceptible”
    How can he even say this? I’m just a nurse, working directly with COVID patients, so what do I know? But I’ve read a study on healthcare workers, where 20% had mucosal antibodies and NO blood antibodies. This means 20% fought of COVID at the mucosal membrane without having to mount a systemic response. I also saw a study where 40-60% of people unexposed to COVID still had T cell recognition of viral proteins. Does this not suggest some level of cross reactive immunity? No empirical data suggests the extreme idea that 100% of the population is susceptible to this infection. The population with the highest infection rates that I’ve ever heard (as detected by b cell mediated antibodies) were the Mumbai slums, which was an estimated around 57%… and the infection fatality rate was strikingly low, around 0.5 to 1%.

    1. Those are smart objections raised by Quinlan, and I hope Sullum responds. One question for Quinlan: You write that the infection fatality rate in the Mumbai slums was .5 to 1 percent (which would be in line with the CDC’s IFR estimate), but did you mean to type “.05 to .1 percent”? That was the estimate I saw cited for Mumbai, which would indeed be “strikingly low” — and more reason to think that lots more Americans have been exposed to the virus than the CDC estimates.

      1. Yes, that was a typo, I meant 0.05 to 0.1 percent.

        “The study also found that a large section of people had been infected and survived with no or little symptoms, leading to a low fatality rate in these areas – one in 1,000 to one in 2,000.”

      2. BTW, the person who made the statement was CDC Director Robert Redfield (a virologist), not the author of this article, which is what I find most disconcerting.

    2. Source please

  18. Sweden, which didn’t shut down any businesses and reopened schools back in May, has been reporting a daily China virus death rate of about 0.1 per million for the past several weeks (i.e. one death per day), and Sweden’s rate of new cases has been less than one fourth that of the US for the past several months.

    It appears that Sweden may be achieving herd immunity. Same thing for cities in the northeastern US.

    1. So it’s the flu. Only difference is it gets worse if you have American media reporting.

  19. Still trusting the CDC? You have suffered severe brain damage from watching too much CNN. Covid does not exist as a new virus. They (the deep state) have managed to rename the old viruses and just jacked with the numbers using payoffs and strong arm tactics. The corruption is well beyond anything we have ever seen. The fear of death has destroyed all common sense and rationality.

  20. In the early stages of the infection the Japanese cruise ship Diamond Princess visited Wuhan. They were then placed in quarantine, where the virus spread through 1/3 of the ship. Somewhere between 6 and 12 people (I forget the exact number) died. They were all aged 70 and above. Anybody below the age of 50 basically at worst had symptoms like a bad cold. That was the best available data. The professional health people decided to ignore those results, and instead use the citizenry as a tool to populate their mega databases, which now yield the same conclusion as the Diamond Princess data.

    1. Look man, lick boot or go to jail. Your choice.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.