The US is the hardest-hit country in the coronavirus pandemic — but its 4% death rate is far lower than that of many other countries

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Coffins arriving from Bergamo, Italy are being unloaded from a military truck that transported them to the cemetery of Cinisello Balsamo in Milan, Italy on March 27, 2020.

Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via AP

The US has reported more than 584,000 coronavirus cases and at least 23,600 deaths — the highest counts worldwide.

But the US's COVID-19 death rate — a calculation that divides the number of deaths by the total number of cases — is among the lowest of the world's 13 hardest-hit countries.

The US's coronavirus death rate is currently 4.1%, the same as the rate in China. The US also has one of the lowest rates of death per capita, according to data from Johns Hopkins University — seven Americans have died per 100,000 residents.

Italy and Belgium's death rates, by contrast, are 12.8%, and the UK's is 12.7%. Italy has reported at least 20,400 deaths, the UK has reported more than 11,300, and Belgium had nearly 4,000 as of Tuesday morning.

covid 19 death rates per country april 14
covid 19 death rates per country april 14

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Germany and Turkey have the lowest death rates among the countries on the list — 2.5% and 2.1%, respectively.

Spain tops the deaths-per-capita list, with 38 people dying per every 100,000. Italy and Belgium both have a per-capita death rate of about 34 per 100,000 people.

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A Spanish soldier stands next to beds set up at a temporary hospital for vulnerable people at the Fira Barcelona Montjuic centre in Barcelona on March 25, 2020.

PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images

Global and country-specific death rates change over time

More than 1.97 million people worldwide have been infected with the coronavirus, and at least 124,500 have died.

Because countries' case totals and death tolls are constantly changing, their death rates are not static — nor is the global rate. Instead, the rates fluctuate constantly as new cases and deaths get reported. On March 27, the US's death rate was 1.6%, Italy's was 10.5%, and Spain's was 7.70%. All three are now higher.

Death rates also depend on how many people get tested for COVID-19 (people whose cases aren't confirmed don't get included in the official case counts) and don't include most asymptomatic carriers.

Additionally, any calculation or comparison of death rates (or case or death totals) depends on governments' officially reported numbers, but it's of course possible that some countries could intentionally underreport theirs. Some experts have suggested that's the case in China, and a study published Monday suggests the Brazilian government has done the same thing. The study found that the true total is likely 12 times higher than the government's official number.

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Medical staff, wearing protective gear, move a patient infected with the coronavirus (COVID-19) from an ambulance to a hospital on March 9, 2020 in Seoul, South Korea.

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

As of Tuesday, the global coronavirus death rate was around 6.3% — nearly double the World Health Organization's estimate of about 3.4% from early March.

Some health experts have predicted that the global death rate will decrease as the number of cases rises and testing continues to expand. Widespread testing could mean a lower death rate because most COVID-19 cases — about 80%, according to one study — are considered mild. But often, the cases tested and reported first are those with severe symptoms, since those people go to the hospital. Milder cases, on the other hand, could go uncounted or get reported later on, so the true number of infected people is likely much higher than the reported total.

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Healthcare workers test a person at a COVID-19 drive-thru testing site at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in Michigan on March 25, 2020.

Carlos Osorio/AP

The death rate of a disease is different from its mortality rate — the latter is the number of deaths out of the number of people in an at-risk population. A death rate is not a reflection of the likelihood that a given person will die.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in March that COVID-19's mortality rate is probably about 1%, which is still nearly 10 times the flu's mortality rate.

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