It seems I can’t help myself. Like you probably, COVID-19 controls my life and it makes my future difficult to plan. That’s a first for me and it worries me a lot…
The policies and rules dictated by our government in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic are impacting all of us. Any approach we take should focus on three principle areas:
First it should be collecting and analyzing data about the disease, from likely symptoms, its spread, lethality and susceptible populations.
Second identifying where the disease is and how it’s spreading in order to direct an effective medical response involving supplies, quarantine requirements and to identify effective medications and to support the development of medications and a vaccines.
Third it should be studying the pandemics economic costs to the country and adopting policies to best mitigate the financial impact of the pandemic on all communities.
Collecting data on the threat should be the highest priority, essentially if we don’t understand the threat we cannot effectively formulate a proper response. In the COVID-19 pandemic, accurate information is the most important thing for every citizen to have if they’re to make reasonable decisions about keeping themselves and their families safe.
Individuals make assessments about risks and associated costs all the time. Cost benefit analysis is a part of life at every level. How much insurance to have, if to get a seasonal vaccine, fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, seat belts, medical treatments and on and on. Governments do the same but for decisions to be appropriate for them and all of us we need good data. For instance, we can build cars that will never kill people in an accident but it would cost more than anyone could afford -cost/benefit.
What Data Matters
With COVID-19 what information is critically important for meaningful decisions? We need to know how many Americans were/are infected and how quickly it is spreading and where. Who the most “at risk” people are and how many are actually dying from the disease. We also need accurate data on how many Americans have recovered. After almost three months of cases in the United States we actually have meaningful information on only one of the above questions and that is who is at most risk.
The majority of data that we have access to and that is being widely reported includes:
Total People Infected. The issues with this number are two fold. First, how important is the number actually? Since a majority of infected people have minor or no symptoms the number shouldn’t be assumed to characterize the actual reported total and the real threat. A number of studies of local populations looking for antibodies strongly suggests we are undercounting cases by at least 500%. That also seriously diminishes the reliability of the reported data and the actual threat.
Deaths from COVID-19. While there is no doubt that this is a serious and deadly disease much of the fatality reporting is also inaccurate. The total death count would seem to be inaccurate and is more than likely exaggerated. The primary websites for tracking the COVID-19 is Johns Hopkins and the CDC. Those site’s data generally do not match and mostly they do not track the same date. There have been numerous reports that health providers are being asked to submit data that over-reports deaths from COVID-19 and because of the financial actions taken during the pandemic, hospitals and local governments can actually benefit from over-reporting financially.
Total Patients Recovered. Johns Hopkins stopped keeping a total count of recovered cases on their site weeks ago. They now report on each state and well over half of the states do not report recoveries at all. Any number that is reported is also seriously under-reported. Confirmed cases are now based on lab tests and if a person is hospitalized they are again tested before discharge. With a majority of cases being asked to just stay home and, supposedly remaining in self-quarantine for 14 days after recovery almost all of those cases go unreported as recovered and not reported.
The COVID-19 Lethality. We do know that the elderly and specifically those with serious health issues are at high risk of dying. In order to demonstrate the death rate from being infected we need to know the total number of people infected as the denominator, and how many people have died from the disease as the numerator. The fatality rate has been reported to be between 3.5% and 0.3% but the simple fact is we don’t have an accurate count for either of those numbers so we just don’t know.
The Data is a Mess
While there is active research gathering data trying to understand how this pandemic is unfolding the government primarily reports on “model” forecasts without supplying the data. What we do know is we have no idea how many Americans have been infected. We don’t really know how many people have died “of” the COVID-19. Because of that we don’t know the actual mortality of the disease. But most importantly we don’t know the financial consequences of having shut down a majority of businesses in the United States of America.
Consider the Following
While Johns Hopkins graphs total cases they don’t graph recovered or deaths and those graphs are much more important. The CDC public data is spotty and suspect and while the “Task Force” has asked for specific reporting from every hospital in the country less than half have complied.
On April 25th alone the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 total case count in the United States increased by 32,793 and the CDC reported 7,875 deaths attributed to COVID-19 and 3,310 who died of pneumonia with COVID-19.
On May 2nd Johns Hopkins COVID-19 total case count in the United States increased by 20,340 and the CDC reported 1,636 deaths attributed to COVID-19 and 637 died of pneumonia with COVID-19.
Johns Hopkins stopped keeping a total count of people recovered and while it is now suggested that symptoms appear about a week after exposure and that most cases resolve after another two weeks, statistically about half of the people recorded as infected should now be recovered. On May 11th we are officially reporting 1,371,000 cases in America and 224,000 recovered which seems like total nonsense. More like double that. Since without complete and accurate data it doesn’t really matter how many total people have been infected because that isn’t the significant data unless the intent of the reporting is to spread and increase panic.