Disappearing Numbers

The second it becomes impossible to sustain the myth about the exponential growth of COVID deaths in a particular area, all concrete numbers about that area’s death rate magically evaporate from Google. I’ve been conducting this experiment for over a week. And the result is always the same.

Instead, we are offered endless rows of utterly meaningless numbers of “people infected.” The whole point of the exercise is to scare us stiff with the magnitude of the numbers to the point where we forget that “infected” very rarely means “very sick” and almost never “dead.”

Also, the defective test kits China inundated the world with show false positives. That’s up to half of Chinese test kits being defective. So why are we constantly told “the number of cases worldwide”? Cases of what? If most people are asymptomatic and so many of the test kits are broken, why do we need to hear this number? To numb us to the really scary number, which is the suddenly skyrocketing unemployment?

23 thoughts on “Disappearing Numbers”

  1. From everything I’ve read, what concerns both doctors and researchers isn’t false positives, it’s false negatives — saying people tested don’t have the virus when they do. We’re grossly underestimating the number of contagious carriers.

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    1. “NYC data today: new daily hospitalizations down again (+ 815, ~9%); worth remembering the quick daily numbers have consistently outpaced the final counts (probably because of what are known as “rule-out” cases, where ppl are hospitalized before final test results come in”

      Took me over an hour to dig out this number. It was much easier to find numbers when they were growing in a way consistent with doom-and-gloom predictions.

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      1. The problem is timeliness of reporting. Just as the states are erratic on when they report numbers (California, multiple times per day, NJ once per day at the governor’s afternoon press conference, Arkansas when they feel like it), so are hospitals. If you look at the site, ncov2019.live, you can see which states have reported at each point during the day.

        At the local level, its even more problematic as hospital staff gets sick and as we press nontraditional service providers into caring for Covid-19 patients (e.g, ambulatory surgery centers, or ASC’s). Finally, there the problem of initial misdiagnosis and correction, whenever that shows up in the numbers, and of course, lack of testing for the asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic. We don’t know anything about people who don’t feel the need to see a doctor. Testing in NJ is only with a doctor’s script. And rural doctors who haven’t seen a Covid-19 case, forgetaboutit.

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  2. Google’s built-in statistics haven’t been accurate for a while. Hospitals only have to report to the state, and the state only has to report to the CDC. They don’t have to report to Google at all, so there tends to be a huge delay. Often you have to go to region-specific sites to see graphs illustrating death rates.

    In my area, local hospitals are reporting confirmed positives, presumed positives, hospitalizations, recoveries, and deaths. So we have that info for my area. They’re not required to provide that information to the public — they never have been. But according to Google, they have no info on recovered cases in my state, or hospitalizations, and the deaths in the state are just the NYC deaths, not deaths anywhere else. It’s a flaw in Google’s system.

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  3. Can’t agree. Admittedly, I haven’t tried to get my statistics from google, but the media and government sites around here report falling daily infection numbers as well as they did growing ones. Better, in fact, which I would attribute mostly to improved and automated data collection.

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  4. Imo, the reason is more likely to be test cost and test criteria. Long story short, the COVID test is expensive, difficult, and scarce.

    Imagine that you find yourself at a hospital with 300 patients for 100 beds. You and everyone else has a good idea of who needs a bed, positive test result or not, because you can do a clinical diagnosis and figure out who probably has an advanced stage of the disease.

    So you look around. There’s hardly any PPE, you and other staff members are exhausted, people are dying, the test costs $300-$3000, stats don’t seem as important because practically all of the numbers worldwide are rubber anyway, part of your brain starts wondering if you should bother testing someone who might be dead in 48 hours or who you are going to triage to die in a hallway, there are hospital directors, medical officers and politicians pressuring you to give a political outcome along with a medical one because the criteria for positive ID of COVID19 stink anyway, and at some point, you decide to prioritise by forgetting about testing so that you can be a doctor again instead of a political statistician.

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  5. I can see what China would get from scaring up a panic. What does Google get?

    Also, could you please get rid of my previous message, Clarissa?

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    1. I’m not blaming Google, actually. At least,not for this. 🙂 The problem is that relevant numbers aren’t being reported / highlighted by the press.

      We kept hearing that NYC is in deep shit, inundated, things are terrible. This was on the news constantly. But did we hear that NYC flattened out within days? Why wasn’t this great news reported as insistently? If you didn’t spend a lot of time looking yesterday, would you know that the curve was flattened out in NYC? I think not.

      And this has been a consistent trend. Every bad projection is reported by every news outlet. Every bit of good news gets downplayed. Why do we constantly get the utterly irrelevant data about “number of infections”? Who knows what the number of infections is? Have you been tested? Neither have I. How do we know we haven’t been infected?

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  6. What regions? I am not using google, but have been similarly frustrated, trying to eyeball death rates in various states. Worldometer records the daily deaths for each state, but doesn’t archive: so, they have a continuing graph for the whole country, where you can see the daily tallies from the beginning of the epidemic. But even though they have those numbers for each state, they don’t keep the nifty ongoing graph for each state, so unless you’ve been keeping a log at home, there’s no way to take, say, NY’s numbers today and compare them to last Tuesday’s numbers. You can only see today’s numbers, and the overall total number, for NY, on any given day.

    For FL, the health department keeps a pretty thorough set of stats, broken down by county, here:

    https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/96dd742462124fa0b38ddedb9b25e429

    But still, the graph is for infections (whatever that means with our totally scattershot testing), not deaths. You can’t get a picture of death rates over time.

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    1. Exactly. I’m trying to track for my county. I’m doing it myself on a piece of paper. It’s extremely hard to find anything reliable. From the data that exists, there’s zero evidence that a strict quarantine for everybody is even remotely justified in our area. Partial yes, just to be on the safe side. But a total quarantine? We are destroying countless local business over half a dozen travelers who didn’t even need to go to the hospital because their symptoms were so mild. Nobody has even had to go to the hospital for it in the entire region! We are destroying people’s livelihoods over a bunch of people who aren’t even really sick. Excuse me for seeing a problem with that.

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      1. And when the infection finally reaches us – as it’s bound to do – we will be completely out of resources, out of patience and out of trust to go back in for a second quarantine.

        In the absence of almost any cases, why didn’t we start by quarantining just the vulnerable populations?

        We have a shelter in place order that is completely unjustified for anywhere but Chicago. And even there it’s a dubious measure.

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        1. Just to put some things into perspective about the timeline. I know it feels like it has been forever. But: A month ago they caught the first infected person in my home country… some Iranian… When I returned from there on March the 2nd, there was no rule about staying home for two weeks, the medical security at the Montreal airport was present but was so lax that I just waived a Canadian passport and went through, the authorities were only hunting for Chinese, Iranians and Italians (unless one showed symptoms, I guess, which I did not)… And nothing was closed. Things started to get closed mid-March.
          And if you are particularly unlucky – your county may turn out to be that island on the left, population 30000…
          https://ag.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html?fbclid=IwAR2cqkpcEWVCSx5BBrZieOMcRe5aRCTRECduyN12dNgREru0iHNMeRiSHIM#/9213122b42fd47b9bf60320a43c290a6

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      2. I hear you. My county, so far, has had 15 confirmed cases, but only 1 hospitalization and no deaths. A lot of our annual income is from tourism, and we are still recovering from a cat. 5 hurricane a year and a half ago. We are losing the entire Spring Break beach season this year. It is a huge blow.

        At the same time, it is difficult to tell if this is overkill, or if it’s a thing we have to do. Our two hospitals suffered a lot of damage in the hurricane, and are not back up to normal capacity. Maybe we have to lock it all down, even if it’s not as severe as predicted, to keep the constant influx of tourists (and the exotic germs they bring) from overwhelming our already-crippled medical facilities. I don’t know.

        One thing that might be a silver lining: after officials closed the beaches (a controversial move, here– send everyone home from work, but then tell them they can’t go to the beach?!), they held a big shindig with 100+ people where the guest of honor was Joe Diffie– who died of The Virus 12 days later. Because of the virus part of that story, the gathering is getting a whole lot of public scrutiny lately– party was hosted by a contractor that gets contracts from local govt (Conflict of interest!!) and by attending and not cancelling, they were clearly violating rules they’d just laid down for everyone else. They’ve been up to these shenanigans for a long time, but with all the publicity, I expect some heads will roll in the next election. The local-news comboxes are boiling masses of scathing commentary right now.

        https://www.burniethompson.com/local-elected-officials-attended-joe-diffie-event-12-days-before-he-died/

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      3. A quarantine allows time for the finding of a non-vaccine based treatment (since those can take 12-18 months if possible at all) and also allows time for the virus to mutate to, hopefully, a less deadly form, since generally, viruses become less deadly per generation overall.

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  7. covidtracking has the deaths, infections, and cumulative hospitalizations(but not hospital releases) and tests every day both for the nation and by state. Wikipedia also has a stats page with cases, deaths, recoveries every day. The most interesting one is a temperature map by kinsa, a smart thermometer company. They have data from 1 million thermometers, and you can plug in any zipcode and look at how many people had a fever by day, it was ahead of the cdc test predicting the wave of infections. We hit 1000 deaths a day, I really hope we dont have a curve like italy because they have had a pretty broad peak of high death days lasting almost 2 weeks.

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  8. I don’t completely agree with your take, but at the same time I wonder how much of this is the rentier class engaged in disaster capitalism? Probably a lot. If they can drive small and medium-size businesses out of the market and then get heaps of bailout money (which they already have), then they can essentially control most of the economy. This was the strategy in 2008-2009 and it worked. Why not repeat with this new opportunity?

    That seems fairly likely to be what is happening and what is going to happen. It’s a great chance for them to gain nearly-complete dominance financially. Why wouldn’t they make the best use of it? Of course they will, and they are. That means economic activity must be suppressed for long enough to suffocate those they want to suffocate.

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    1. That’s what I’m thinking, exactly. Neoliberalism feeds on “disruption.” It creates disruption. It manufactures shocks to the system to create change that would be impossible otherwise.

      This doesn’t mean the virus isn’t real. It’s very real. But it’s being used to achieve a whole lot of things that go far beyond the virus.

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    2. “disaster capitalism – a great chance for them to gain nearly-complete dominance financially”

      I’ve been thinking the same thing. I don’t think it will be quite as brutal in Europe (they’re already talking about ways of ameliorating the shock that are more effective than anything the US is liable to come up with) but I think vast swaths of Americans are going to be robbed blind…

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  9. I’ve been following things on the Johns Hopkins website. It was recommended somewhere else as being well sourced by researchers their public health program. The most interesting thing I’ve noticed is that the numbers from China stopped moving five or six days ago.

    https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html

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