This week’s COTW duo is especially self-serving. Twinkie soberly urges patience and caution:
What seems to matter more than restrictive vs. less restrictive is the time of intervention. Early intervention of preventing the obvious mass transmission events (e.g. conventions, sporting events, etc.) appear to be crucial. However, once there is significant community tranmission, “selective” measures are too little, too late.
We should, however, caution ourselves that this is all still very early in terms of gathering comprehensive data. The peaks seem to have passed in early outbreak areas (e.g. Italy, NYC, etc.), but there could still be flare-ups in other areas.
Also, China revised its death toll in Wuhan with a 50% increase.
It’s obvious China has been underreporting its numbers for several weeks–even after adding around 1,500 Wuhan coronavirus deaths to the country’s total death count, the number of confirmed cases remained unchanged. The cases had been identified from the beginning but no one noticed until the other day that thousands of them ended not in recovery but in death?
Similarly, New York City added 3,700 deaths last week. The deceased had gone uncounted as coronavirus victims at the time they died. They were never tested and now never will be, but they were reported to have had coronavirus symptoms when they expired.
These reports may well be made in good faith, but it’s not hard to see how skeptics are going to become more skeptical by a box of death certificates being discovered in the utility closet of the coroner’s office.
Out of the blue New York retroactively adds more deaths than any state other than New Jersey has tallied through the whole of the pandemic up to this point. How are we supposed to make sense of what is going on?
Attributing deaths to coronavirus when the deceased had not been tested presents all kinds of obvious problems, not least of which is that it makes standardization impossible since most jurisdictions aren’t counting deaths in this way, and there isn’t any conceivable way they could reliably do so.
This is endlessly frustrating for anyone who is trying to get a quantitative handle on what is going on. While I’m too skittish to definitively pronounce on something of this import that I may later come to regret, I will give the other COTW over to Intelligent Dasein, whose sentiments are directionally similar but notably more intense and certain than my own:
You need some kind of touchstone wherewith to disentangle the politics, incompetence, and outright lying from the reported data. The only way to do that is the total number of deaths from all causes. Nevermind the Covid-19 numbers, whether we’re speaking about virus-positive, sero-positive, deaths with, deaths from, total cases, IFR, CFR—they’re all garbage.
We can only infer how reliable the rest of the data are from the number of extra people dying. But we also have to subtract from that number the number of people whose deaths were caused by iatrogenic effects of the lockdown (e.g. suicides, elderly people being abandoned in nursing homes, people not receiving routine medical care because of coronavirus restrictions, vulnerable people being herded into crowded ERs, etc.). Once this is done, coronavirus does not seem to account for any statistically significant number of excess deaths. As Hail has written about in several recent posts, we are unable to reject the null hypothesis.
And no, this is not a success story for social distancing. The half-assed social distancing measures that we’ve adopted, which ought rather to be called Potemkin Social Distancing or Social Distancing Theater, would not have been effective enough to stop the spread of the virus if it really had a mind to spread. It is not possible to impose medical grade prophylaxis upon all of society when so many places of business still remain open, and plenty of people still have to interact.
The case numbers and death numbers will always be revised higher, never lower, because more corona means more stimulus money and more lucrative security theater for governments. But it has already become abundantly clear that this occurred only because corona miraculously cures every other disease. No one dies of anything else when corona is in town, and people who would have died anyway are especially pitiable when dying of corona.
While ID notes there have been and will continue to be deaths-with or deaths-suspected-of counted as deaths-from, there are also deaths from unrelated causes that are being reduced from widespread shelter-in-place orders. Automobile accidents, for instance. Ultimately, though, comparing total monthly deaths year-over-year is probably going to be the most convincing evidence one way or the other.
Regarding shelter-in-place, Sweden has received a lot of attention as a control country for what coronavirus will do with minimal social restrictions in place. At this point, the country is being hit harder than neighboring Norway or Finland, but not devastatingly so.
In the US, there are five states–Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota–that never issued orders for residents to stay at home. So far, these states have suffered among the least of all in the US. They are collectively pretty fat, which putatively puts them at high risk. On the other hand, they are not very densely populated. So does that mean any metro area no larger than Des Moines is ready to get back in the game? Probably not, but what do I know?
It’s hard to tell for sure, but South Dakota looks to be the closest thing we have to a Sweden. Not only have no shelter-in-place orders been issued, businesses have also been allowed to remain open.