New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy took time out of his daily COVID-19 press briefing Saturday to dispel inaccurate comparisons between the coronavirus and the flu. Murphy said that equating the two is “wrong,” and called the coronavirus a “different enemy.”
What most distinguishes the coronavirus from the flu is its mortality rate, according to the governor. New Jersey has lost 4,070 people to the coronavirus in just six weeks. “That’s more than the CDC statistics show that we have lost over the past three flu seasons in their entirety combined,” Murphy said.
“If you have been keeping your eyes and your mind closed to the facts, and to science, please I beg you to open them,” he said. “Open them wide, before you — God forbid — become one of the numbers that I report here every day.”
Early understanding of the coronavirus has shown that one person with COVID-19 has the ability to infect many others. According to the governor, once someone is exposed to the virus it can take up to two weeks for them to develop symptoms.
The hospitalization rate for COVID-19 is also drastically higher than the flu. The hospitalization rate for the flu is “about one tenth of one percent of cases,” Murphy said, noting that the current hospitalization rate of COVID-19 is roughly 10%. That means that a person with COVID-19 is about 100 times more likely to be hospitalized than a person with the flu, according to the governor.
As of Friday night, 7,718 people in New Jersey are hospitalized due to the coronavirus. More than 2,000 of those people need critical or intensive care, requiring 1,641 ventilators to be in use.
Murphy said residents’ compliance with the state’s stay-at-home order and social distancing guidelines has begun to flatten the curve. “We’re now reporting more people leaving the hospital than entering, please God it stays that way,” he said. The governor stressed, however, that the positive news does not mean restrictions can be eased. “So far so good, we just can’t let up,” he said.
A central reason why New Jersey and many other states are not relaxing stay-at-home orders is due to the lack of understanding about the virus. Health experts are calling for widespread COVID-19 blood testing that may be able to determine if a person who had coronavirus is now immune.
Unlike the flu, there are currently no therapeutics or vaccines for the coronavirus. Murphy said that the “contrast” between the flu and COVID-19 could change as more is known about the latter.
“In the meantime, please trust us,” the governor said. “Based on what we now know, the everyday run-of-the-mill flu — which itself can be a big challenge and virulent — is in a completely different category than what we’re talking about here.”