Covid Math*

Covid Math

Today’s craze is “Covid Math” … and everyone’s doing it. The media do it best, highlighting the juiciest, most exciting numbers and making the most electrifying calculations in reporting the number of Americans who have been infected by and died from Covid-19. At the same time, media are using Covid Math to project the horrors yet to come number of cases and fatalities that likely will result from the Covid-19 re-opening. But who needs the media to make those calculations? Anyone can do it. All it takes is an internet connection that provides access to data that governments, agencies, think-tanks, medical communities, the media, and internet denizens have produced, providing every individual with the ability to choose the precise facts and numbers that fit each such person’s predisposition. After all, the amount of data is enormous and the number of numbers is endless. All anyone needs to do is pick a few and then add them up … or multiply them … or divide them by a number, any number. Covid Math allows everyone to be a math whiz and, by deciding which numbers to choose, anyone can calculate the odds of contracting Covid-19, of becoming seriously ill from Covid-19 …, and of dying from Covid-19. Whatever the conclusion a person is inclined to reach, the numbers are there to support it … and that’s comforting for those who seek certainty. For some, this means that the pandemic is under control and they can return to their pre-March lives. For others, it means that life will never return to normalcy.

The difficulty is that both conclusions are wrong. There is no certainty. No one knows which are the accurate numbers and no one is able to predict the Covid-19 future. There is no certainty when there’s novelty, and the “Novel Coronavirus” is, indeed, novel … which, after all, means that it’s “new,” “it’s recently come into existence,” “it’s never been seen before,” “it’s unprecedented.”

The data and numbers unfortunately are encouraging the belief in a level of knowledge that doesn’t exist. The data are all new, much of it conflicting, with little having been derived scientifically and with virtually none having been confirmed by repetition. That makes it impossible to unravel/decipher the facts and reach a definitive set of conclusions, to understand which numbers really matter, or to make projections of numbers into the future. There is so much unproven, unrefined data that support can be found for virtually any Covid-19 thesis. There is virtually limitless data on cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. The media are chock full of conclusions based on scientifically derived carefully gathered thoughtfully considered sensationalized numbers that rely on the purported expertise of their newscasters and work-from-home staff to reach untested, unscientific conclusions often reported as fact. Although a rudimentary internet search shows that the numbers being presented by the media are based on existing data, the fact is that those numbers necessarily are cherry-picked, frequently for sensationalizing reasons, and drawn from an amorphous mass of often conflicting data. The result is that every reporter, editor, accountant, actuary and film star – every person in America – has access to sufficient data to calculate of the trajectory of Covid-19 and to project that calculation into the future … which is precisely what each is doing. Experts, whoever they are, be damned! There is more than enough evidence to conclude that the media’s experts are correctly analyzing the available evidence and that the pandemic is waning … or waxing … that it’s peaked … or that a Second Wave has just begun … even as the First Wave remains with us.

There’s both too much and too little data … and very little data that has been scientifically filtered. Moreover, because Covid-19 is a recent phenomenon, much of the data currently available is of a short duration and littered with elements that are simply anecdotal … even if presented as “fact.”

Although some Americans apparently believe that the recent American States’ re-openings mean that the pandemic has passed, that’s far from the reality. Re-openings mean that those States’ governors believe that Covid-19 can be controlled at an acceptable cost – without having addressed the question of how many deaths are “acceptable” –, that hospitals are unlikely to be overwhelmed by cases, that there will be sufficient ICUs and ventilators, and that unrelated hospital functions will not be adversely affected by Covid-19. That’s the carefully-considered(?) decision being made by those governors …, but there is no assurance that the calculations they’ve made will be correct. If the level of infections was not brought under control before the re-openings – and no one at this time knows what that level of control is –, and if infections, hospitalizations and deaths then truly “spike,” will lockdowns be reinstated? If not, what will happen next?

While re-openings of businesses, restaurants, bars, hair salons, and retail stores after the two+-month lockdown will end a terribly undesirable period of social and economic isolation, it is self-evident that those re-openings will result in an increase in Covid-19 cases and of hospitalizations and deaths. The consequence of re-openings is that the levels of infection that existed during lockdowns – and that were created by those lockdowns – will “spike,” though hopefully to levels lower than those that existed prior to the lockdowns. Governors have decided to trade-off the increased infections – and increased fatalities – against the economic, social and political damage of continued social and economic isolation. The inevitable result will be a rising trend of infections, hospitalizations, ventilator use … and deaths. How steep the trend will be is anyone’s guess. All trends, whether actual or perceived, real or imagined, are being broadcast in headlines that focus on one or a few numbers that allegedly prove a conclusion. Sadly, no one has sufficient data to accurately predict the trajectory of Covid-19.

The media nevertheless are focusing on extreme outcomes: Either the pandemic likely is over … or it soon will be over … or it is returning with a vengeance … or it soon will be returning with a vengeance. For example, one recent headline declared that “Coronavirus Cases Spike Across Nearly Half of U.S.,” adding “that Florida has set a new single-day record, Houston is seeing signs of a second wave, and Nashville is putting its reopening on hold.”

That’s scary …, but is it true? Have Coronavirus cases “spiked”? Although there are any number of facts that can be used to support a conclusion – in fact, any conclusion, headline or calculation –, that doesn’t validate it … or any other conclusion. A “spike” or a “surge” or a “Second Wave” is a highly-charged term. While it undoubtedly is true that the number of infections in Florida, Texas, Tennessee and elsewhere is increasing …, that’s no surprise. It’s to be expected. That’s what happens when a lockdown ends. What we don’t know – yet – is precisely what this portends. We can’t know. Covid-19 is new. It’s “novel.” What we do know is that many of the “increased cases” are the result of more widespread testing. For example, Florida has increased its testing by ~37{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35} over the past two weeks and confirmed cases consequently have risen 28{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35}. Those numbers suggest that there is neither a “spike” nor a “surge,” simply more accurate reporting. On the other hand, testing in Arizona has increased by 53{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35}, but confirmed cases have jumped by 73{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35}. These numbers suggest that infections have increased, perhaps even “spiked.” However, even those numbers are ambiguous. They can be and are being interpreted based on the predisposition of the interpreter … and by a media that feeds on sensationalizing numbers. The fact is that the increased cases may be the result of better counting … or, alternatively they could be because of a mutation that is spreading Covid-19 more quickly, and maybe even more lethally, than it was being spread prior to the lockdown … or they be for any of several other reasons. We will know the correct analysis only in retrospect, when the number of hospitalizations, ventilators, and deaths is scientifically tabulated and the reasons determined. For now, the predictions being made might as well be the predictions of any backstreet fortuneteller.

Even after the number of hospitalizations, ventilators, and deaths is scientifically tabulated, we still may not know for some time to what extent the ICU cases and deaths were driven by the re-openings or by other factors, such as the number of elderly or disabled who were exposed, how susceptible the victims were to Covid-19, and how demographics played a role – in terms of blood type (those with type A blood may have a higher fatality rate), race (Native Americans are impacted to a greater extent), genetics, and location of outbreaks (NYC most certainly has a profile radically worse from every other U.S. location). Although it has been reasoned that seasonality should limit the spread of Covid-19, the evidence to-date at best is tepid. Although Covid-19 is far more difficult to spread outdoors than indoors, and warmer weather allows for more outdoor than indoor socialization, warm weather in itself does not appear to be materially decreasing the spread of Covid-19.

Scientists who have studied the data believe that the average American has an ~0.4{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35} chance of dying from Covid-19. They base their estimate on the assumption that 60{29ea29b64b10057f61377b2c087cd5b7537a0cd24da4295a308b0bf589469f35} of Americans eventually will become infected (the guessed-at projected herd immunity percentage) and apply that percentage to the number of fatalities reported by a cross-section of countries. In order to minimize contagion, scientists strongly advise strict adherence to social-distancing and mask-wearing, making both necessary practices … and not only in crowded social situations.

The following additional conclusions can be drawn from existing data: (1) those who live in suburban areas will have fewer infections, hospitalizations and deaths than those who live in urban areas; (2) those who live in rural areas will have fewer infections, hospitalizations and deaths than those who live in suburban areas; (3) those who spend most of their social time outdoors will have fewer infections, hospitalizations and deaths than those who spend most of their social time indoors; and (4) those who work remotely and those who shop remotely will have fewer infections, hospitalizations and deaths than those who work in an office and those who shop in-person. As a few other nations have demonstrated, a national test-and-trace system is the best way to bring Covid-19 under control. It would be worthwhile for America’s Federal government/CDC to develop a contingency plan detailing how such a system might be adopted.

Finally (from a good friend)

My goal for 2020 was to lose 10 pounds. Only have 14 to go!
Ate a salad for dinner. Mostly croutons and tomatoes. Really just one big round crouton covered with tomato sauce …, and cheese. FINE, it was a pizza…. OK, I ate a pizza!
How to prepare Tofu: Throw it in the trash
I just did a week’s worth of cardio after walking into a spider web.
I don’t mean to brag, but I finished my 14-day diet food supply in 3 hours and 20 minutes.
A recent study has found women who carry a little extra weight live longer than men who mention it.
A thief broke into my house last night. He started searching for money so I woke up and searched with him.
I think I’ll just put an “Out of Order” sticker on my forehead and call it a day.
And, for elderly readers: Senility has been a smooth transition for me.
I may not be that funny or athletic or good looking or smart or talented. I forgot where I was going with this.
Just remember, once you’re over the hill you begin to pick up speed.


*┬® Copyright 2020 by William Natbony. All rights reserved.

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