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What percent of the world’s population has caught COVID-19?

percentage of people who have covid
Photo via Davide Gabino/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)
  • This story is regularly updated for relevance. Last updated: May 11, 2021

Since the coronavirus pandemic began 14 months ago, more than 158 million cases have been recorded globally and more than 3.29 million lives have been lost. The U.S. alone has seen more than 32.7 million cases and more than 580,000 deaths. The World Health Organization estimated in October that the percentage of people who have had COVID-19 around the globe was about 10%, though that number was undoubtedly higher by May.

Meanwhile, by mid-January 2021, models suggested that 17% of Americans had been infected by the coronavirus, and a few weeks later, models estimated that number to be 21.5% of Americans had contracted the virus.

By the end of the year, it was determined that 2020 had been the deadliest year for Americans than ever before and then January 2021 fell as the deadliest month of the pandemic. In fact, more Americans had been lost in the first 10 months of the pandemic than had been killed in World War II, and by the beginning of May, one study estimated that more than 900,000 Americans had died from COVID (as opposed to the official figure listed above).

This leaves the vast majority of the world’s population vulnerable, and billions of people still don’t have access to any vaccines (and the richest countries are getting the majority of vaccines). The percentage of people who have contracted the coronavirus is still minor compared to the number of people yet to suffer the illness. The WHO’s top emergency expert, Mike Ryan, noted that the number of infections vary based on several factors

“It varies depending on country, it varies from urban to rural, it varies depending on groups,” he said. “But what it does mean is that the vast majority of the world remains at risk.” Ryan also noted that the world is headed into a “difficult period.”

Experts predicted that the virus would worsen in the winter. In the early months of the pandemic, some predicted that the virus would improve in warm weather. The rate of infection remained steady throughout most of the summer of 2020, even as experts—including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top disease expert—warned that without a notable decrease, we were headed for a challenging fall and winter. Meanwhile, the percentage of people who have COVID continues to rise.

Still, during that time, it was revealed that the mortality rate had been dropping, and with two vaccines getting emergency authorization from the FDA, it was estimated that 70% of people would have to be immunized to get to herd immunity. That would be made much more difficult if a percentage of the population continues to refuse the vaccine because of “vaccine hesitancy.”

The only way to combat a surge in numbers before the world reaches herd immunity is to continue doing as the world’s top experts recommend: Wear a mask, wash your hands, and continue social distancing efforts. And get vaccinated with any of the three U.S. options if you can.

Sources: AP, Johns Hopkins, Reuters, The Atlantic