What’s With The Numbers?

From The Dispatch:

As of Sunday night, 1,486,757 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the United States (an increase of 18,961 from yesterday) and 89,562 deaths have been attributed to the virus (an increase of 808 from yesterday), according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, leading to a mortality rate among confirmed cases of 6 percent (the true mortality rate is likely lower, but it’s impossible to determine precisely due to incomplete testing regimens). Of 11,499,203 coronavirus tests conducted in the United States (422,024 conducted since yesterday), 12.9 percent have come back positive.

I noticed last week the deaths seemed to be generally curving downwards, having dropped from 2000+ to 1100 to 700, but then curving back up towards the end of the week (an anomaly that I think must be explained by methods of counting and aggregation and when things happen more than date-of-death).

But the numbers I’m thinking about are cases of COVID-19 and some of how all this is reported.

For example, with The Dispatch we always get the mortality rate of 6% with the caveat it might be lower.

But never the “confirmed” cases percentage against population, which, as I calculate it, is 0.4%.

Or the overall fatality rate of deaths/population. Which as I calculate it would be .02%.

And that’s assuming all those deaths should be attributed to Coronavirus. As Colorado dropped a number of COVID-19 deaths from their count due to attributing mortality to other causes, there is clearly still some variation as to how Coronavirus deaths are actually assessed.

My point being, the fact that “confirmed” cases (not always the result of testing, but sometimes diagnosis by symptoms) being 0.4% seems like a relevant number, but it never seems to be put that way. Just as the overall fatality rate within the entire population being 0.02%.

The news gives us all sorts of comparisons to help people think of numbers when, saying, reporting on the national debt or a drop in the stock market or something other event or issue that involves complicated numbers. I’ve heard the national debt measured in dollar-bills around the earth or reaching to the moon or in contrast to stars in the galaxy and so on and so forth.

There doesn’t seem to be a similar urge to contextualize the coronavirus numbers. There also has been little discussion of how these numbers are achieved. Are cases all the results of tests, or assessed by symptoms, or a mix of both? Is it the same from state-to-state or country-to-country? It seems clear coronavirus deaths are not being assessed the same state-to-state.

So when we talk about surges or spikes, are we talking about real changes or maybe changes in how numbers or counted, or when data is recompiled, or something else?

From the John Hopkin’s dashboard to official state numbers, it feels to me as everything is being presented as being much more concrete and standardized and, frankly, accurate than it really is.

Just a Monday morning observation. Hope everyone is having a great (and safe) day!

7 Responses

  1. Haven’t done a post in forever. But I just did. Monday morning coronavirus update, right here!



  2. Good points, all.

    I heard a Nobel Prize winning economist, not whatshisname, say that reopening is necessary but to do it well like Aussie, NZ, Germany,SK, Taiwan, and Denmark have done we need test and trace in place. And then he said we can test and trace for a year the entire work force EVERY TWO WEEKS for $100B for a year.

    If true, that sounds like a no brainer.


    • Holy crap. Everybody every two weeks? That seems like overkill, but ultimately it’s not up to me. And test and trace does have kind of Orwellian overtones.

      Test every two weeks? Jeeze Louise. If that’s what it takes to get them to open up, then I guess that’s better than not doing it. But I find it a little off-putting never the less, as it’s getting very big brotherish. And largely unnecessary, given the impact of the disease itself overall–except maybe in NYC.


      • KW:

        And test and trace does have kind of Orwellian overtones.

        Yup. I want no part of any government run test and trace program. Seriously…who in the world would trust the government with such a thing?


        • Assume the funding goes to the states and the states dole it ou to their county health authorities. I think that is how it would be structured, except in counties that do not have any resources, in which case the State would step in. Is that more trustworthy? I think so. Local officials are very responsive about stuff like this – I am analogizing to Ag issues with disease control here, of course, where the County Agent was every rancher and farmer’s good buddy.


        • If not before recent local government response to coronavirus, then certainly after … that seems like an awful idea and a quick slide down a slippery slope.


    • Also my speculation is that testing literally everybody every two weeks would be more than $100B itself, not to mention the cost of tracing. Trying to get everybody to use phone apps that track them everywhere or get refused service would end up with a lot of litigation. And sifting through bad data of self-reporting, where you give fake phone#s and such at restaurants or retail establishments . . . I can’t see any tracing system that isn’t met with significant opposition. At least not in the US.


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