They dressed in scrubs. They sounded scientific. And last week’s message from two Bakersfield doctors was exactly what many stuck-at-home Americans wanted to hear: COVID-19 is no worse than influenza, its death rates are low and we should all go back to work and school.
Drs. Dan Erickson and Artin Massihi, co-owners of Accelerated Urgent Care, which offers Bakersfield’s only private walk-in COVID-19 testing site, held a press conference on April 22 to report their conclusions about COVID-19 test results. During the conference, broadcast on YouTube, the doctors said that 12% of Californians tested so far have been infected. Extrapolating that to the general population, they estimated that as many as 5 million Californians have likely contracted the virus. They then used the total number of COVID-19 deaths statewide (roughly 1,200, as of last week) to calculate a death rate of just 0.03% — similar to the average death rate from seasonal flu.
"Millions of cases, small amount of death," Erickson stressed repeatedly during the press conference, saying fears about the virus were overblown and questioning the need for widespread quarantine measures.
But public health experts were quick to point out the major flaws in the doctors’ methodology – namely that only a tiny percentage of Californians have actually been tested, a group that is more likely to test positive and is not representative of the larger population.