President Trump drew repeated comparisons between the novel coronavirus outbreak and the flu season.

"We have a lot of people dying from the flu on top of everything else," he said. "It's very bad. It looks like it could be over 50,000."

The reality so far for the current flu season is about half as severe as the president said. There have been about 23,000 deaths from flu during the 2019-2020 season, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC estimates there have been 38 million flu illnesses and 390,000 hospitalizations. The rates of hospitalization for flu "remain moderate" overall, according to the CDC. But some age groups have experienced higher hospitalization rates than usual. Flu hospitalizations are "the highest CDC has on record" for young children, up to age 4, and adults ages, 18-49.

While flu can send hundreds of thousands of people to the hospital each year, the seasonal effect is reasonably well understood and planned for. The comparison between flu and COVID-19 doesn't capture the strain that the new coronavirus is putting on hospitals.

COVID-19 is a new disease that is hard to predict. And the surge in cases requiring intensive care that was seen in China and now in Italy can lead to a health system's collapse.

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