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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)
  • More than 10% of the world’s population has been infected
  • In January, models suggested that 17% of Americans have been infected
  • There are nearly 111 million global cases of COVID-19

Since the coronavirus pandemic began 11 months ago, more than 112 million cases have been recorded globally and more than 2.49 million lives have been lost. The U.S. alone has seen more than 28.3 million cases and more than 505,000 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 February.

Meanwhile, by mid-January, models suggested that 17% of Americans had been infected by the coronavirus. 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 end of Feburary, the U.S. had passed a grim milestone.

This leaves the vast majority of the world’s population vulnerable, and billions of people still don’t have access to any 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 have long 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, 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.

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. It’s unclear, though, just how much the new COVID-19 variants will affect how long it takes to get herd immunity, especially if people who have already had the coronavirus can be reinfected by those new strains.

Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC, warned the Today show in April that the fall and winter of 2020 “are going to be probably one of the most difficult times that we’ve experienced in American public health.” Most viruses, including common influenza, peak in the winter months. 

There are a few factors that contribute to this. The air is commonly drier during the winter, and that allows particles to travel more efficiently through the air. As most know by now, COVID-19 is often spread through respiratory droplets. Outdoor seating has also been a big element in keeping the percentage of people who are exposed to COVID-19 lower. Colder weather is sure to present a hurdle in these efforts, as people flee indoors from the winter chill. 

Winter also wears on our body’s natural defenses, according to the Atlantic. This compounds with seasonal depression, which is expected to surge in 2020 as well. With social distancing headed into its ninth month, many people are beginning to feel the wear. As the holidays are in full swing, these feelings of isolation will only get worse. 

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 if you can.

Sources: AP, Johns Hopkins, Reuters, The Atlantic


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