Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Fevered Calculations: Heck No, Brownie Moment

 

“If you torture numbers enough, they will say anything you want. If you are good enough, you will not leave any fingerprints.”
— As told by my father, recounting his college statistics professor’s opening lecture

There are all sorts of numbers being thrown around about the Chinese coronavirus, COVID-19. There are all sorts of political agendas underlying every aspect, from governments, to social media content providers (that could be you and me), to paid “journalists.” How are we to think about the risks, the odds, the potential dangers at present and stretching ahead? Also, how is President Trump to avoid a disastrous “Heck of a job, Brownie” moment?

“Heck of a job, Brownie!” Actually “You’re doing a heck of a job, Brownie.” Those were the careless words of President George W. Bush, as he flew over the unfolding disaster of Hurricane Katrina. He defended these words, later, by claiming he just wanted to buck up the troops, to encourage the federal disaster response team. However, every word uttered on camera or on an audio link is a message to the public as well. It will not do to point fingers at the Louisiana Democrats, governor, and mayor. Hurricanes are national government business, and “heck of a job”, while individuals and families are experiencing catastrophe, is a special kind of stupid, a Bush family kind of stupid. Watch President Trump’s statements closely, as every word said or unsaid will be used against him.

President Trump is already rightly deeply skeptical of the snakes in civil servants’ skins. He needs to strike the right balance of open sympathy for Americans first, and people around the world second, while openly holding our massive public health bureaucracies to strict account. So far, we hear from his team that they have been directed to be “radically transparent.” Disruptions coming on drugs or drug precursors? Already flagged as a known issue, and President Trump has 4 years now of beating the drum, with 3 years of action, to move manufacturing of all sorts back to American soil.

Notice the talk about virus filtering face masks is all about one or two factories in the United States running flat out now. Notice also that President Trump just came back from India, where he praised the progress of the world’s largest democracy. So, he is openly, obviously, working to reduce our dependence on a single foreign source of drugs and drug precursors. India is big in off-label drug production already. Consider that China, long praised by the left for its supposedly superior ability to command necessary actions, is stumbling all over this. Here, President Trump can beat the snot out of the Bernie-Squad “social democrats,” pointing to the relative failure of their preferred healthcare models.

Which brings us to the numbers. The last question in the February 25 HHS briefing was from a Voice of America reporter, who asked for a “reality check,” for a straight comparison of the lethality and transmissibility of the “novel coronavirus,” with “influenza, the current strain that is going around.” Here were the answers:

  • Standard flu: 0.1 percent, that is 1 in 1,000 people who come down with the annual flu die of it
  • Novel coronavirus: around 2%, but we do not have the denominator anywhere close to right, so estimates differ greatly
  • SARS was 9 to 10% (also a coronavirus)
  • MERS was 36% (this is also a coronavirus)
  • Pandemic influenza, 0.5 to 0.6% over the years, with 1918 at 1.5 to 2%

First, the coronavirus outbreaks look very bad. Yes, and there were relatively few cases worldwide. They either burned out fast or were very successfully contained. They were no Black Death, no smallpox hitting a population without prior herd immunity.

So, what are we to make of the numbers available now on COVID-19? Look at the numbers given on the Worldometer coronavirus page:

Consider the top-line number first. If there are 2,771 deaths out of 81,406 known cases, that is 3.4% death rate. Ah, but wait. The virus has only been known for about 90 days, and many cases are not yet over. Many have not gotten over it. So, the total cases are not the total cases with outcomes.

Perhaps the closed cases are the right metric. Right now, that is 33,141. 2,771 deaths out of 33,141 closed cases. That would be 8.3%, which is in line with SARS.

What about the 2% number? That is caveated heavily by WHO. Basically, it is meaningless because the numbers are entirely too fuzzy.

Is that all as clear as mud? Well, let me give it another stir. The death rate percentage is very low on seasonal flu, but the sheer numbers are astonishing because there are so many cases. The 1918 influenza epidemic “only” killed 2% of those who are estimated to have caught it, but so many people caught it that the body count was stunning, so stunning that the U.S. military absolutely insists that every service member will be immunized every year, between August and December. Woe to any leader having to explain anything under 100% inoculation by late November. So, what is the actual level of transmission over the next few months?

Wuhan itself has an estimated population of over 11 million. If every case in the whole world was assigned to Wuhan, we would be looking at 82 thousand out of 11 million, or less than 1% of that city infected. Sure, we can make up numbers here and talk about communist lies, but that does not work so well when we get to advanced democracies like South Korea or Italy. South Korea has around 51 million people and reports 1,595 cases so far. Italy has a population of slightly more than 60 million and reports 470 cases so far. Japan? 126 million population with 172 reported cases. As you read numbers of cases per country, see if the population is reported. If not, you are getting misleading information, someone is torturing the data, with or without intent.

Watching the presidential news conference, I think the president is struggling with the need to talk up preparedness in his usual terms while not getting into a “heck of a job, Brownie” soundbite. He did make the point repeatedly that the medical professionals are the best in the world, and he called for unity in supporting their efforts, as well as pointing to his own lifetime habit of being a bit of a germophobe, washing hands all the time and avoiding close contact with people who are showing signs of being sick. He latched onto the reported number of cases in America, but this does not reflect the limited testing capability, which may be masking cases. As soon as a reporter ran out Speaker Pelosi’s attack on him, President Trump jumped on it and pulled in Senator Schumer’s comments as well. He framed their remarks as self-serving political remarks that were bad for the country and said everyone should be working together to protect the American people from this disease.

While “best prepared” and “best experts in the world” are objectively true, and while the range of outcomes is very wide, the president knew he was opening himself to the usual playbook. Every increase in the number of cases here will be paired with his best-case scenario words. President Trump did make the point that he was criticized first for restricting travel from China, called a racist. He also made the point, well inside his four-year-old consistent message about America first, that he was concerned first and foremost about our safety, and would restrict travel from any country that was not showing they had a solid grip on controlling disease transmission.

The transcript will be up later, but here is the full event video. President Trump opened with condemnation of a “wicked murderer” who took the lives of five people this morning at a Molsen-Coors brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and offered prayer and sympathy for the victims and their families. He then turned directly to the coronavirus. When the questions started, he quickly turned a question, off-topic, from an Indian journalist, back to the topic at hand. “I don’t want to talk about that (future U.S.-India relations) here, I want to stick to this topic.”

Within the body of the briefing, President Trump pointed out the number of people who die of the regular flu every year, commenting that he had never heard or thought that number could be so high. He then went into what his team had done and what would be done. He appointed Vice President Pence the administration COVID-19 response leader on camera, pointing to Governor Pence’s leadership among governors in healthcare reform and in response to a pandemic. Secretary Azar was asked, at the end, if he felt demoted. Azar emphatically said he was thrilled to get the biggest stick in the government to help him in the whole of government approach.

[Update, late Wednesday evening] John Hinderaker of Power Line watched the same briefing and concluded President Trump handled it well, “Trump Steps Out on Coronavirus:”

President Trump understands, no doubt, that the Democrats are waiting in the wings with their knives out, hoping that coronavirus turns into a disaster that impacts the 2020 election.

[…]

Around 23 minutes in, the president retakes the microphone for questions, mostly hostile and all from Democrats. He handled them well.

[…]

Democrats hope that coronavirus will be a deus ex machina that will turn the White House over to them, as a result of a Black Death-like pandemic or an international economic collapse. I suppose those things could happen, but my guess is that the Democrats will be disappointed, and their hoped-for catastrophe will fizzle.

May it be so.


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Published in Healthcare
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  1. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Still we are all doomed

    • #1
    • February 26, 2020, at 5:22 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  2. DrewInWisconsin, Negative Infl… Coolidge

    While the charts for “cases outside the US” look gloomy on this page, the other charts seem to indicate a falling off.

    Active cases dropping, number of recovered/cured individuals rising steadily.

    For the last week new recoveries higher than new cases.

    Total serious and critical cases falling.

    . . .

    It’s bad, but these charts suggest outlook is improving.

    What am I missing?

     

    • #2
    • February 26, 2020, at 5:35 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  3. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    A couple of additional useful sites:

    1. Johns Hopkins University COVID19 statistics, updated frequently.
    2. The CDC’s US-specific COVID19 statistics, updated on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

    The latter is useful because it has more granular data about the particular sources of infection and lists the number of people tested, which remains small. In his presser, the president prioritized increased surveillance (i.e., testing). As of today, only 445 individuals have been tested in the US, aside from the evacuees from Wuhan and the virus cruise ship Diamond Princess.

    • #3
    • February 26, 2020, at 5:37 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  4. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Still we are all doomed

    Doomed to something, yes we are.

    • #4
    • February 26, 2020, at 5:41 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  5. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    drlorentz (View Comment):

    A couple of additional useful sites:

    1. Johns Hopkins University COVID19 statistics, updated frequently.
    2. The CDC’s US-specific COVID19 statistics, updated on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

    The latter is useful because it has more granular data about the particular sources of infection and lists the number of people tested, which remains small. In his presser, the president prioritized increased surveillance (i.e., testing). As of today, only 445 individuals have been tested in the US, aside from the evacuees from Wuhan and the virus cruise ship Diamond Princess.

    Thanks for reminding me. The Johns Hopkins presentation is a very good graphic dashboard. I’ll roll these into the bottom of the post.

    • #5
    • February 26, 2020, at 5:45 PM PST
    • 1 like
  6. MarciN Member

    My sense from the reading I’ve done about this virus outbreak is that at first, it was the unprecedented speed for a corona virus at which it was being transmitted that upset the doctors who first saw it. We know now that it seems to be milder than SARS in terms of the death rate, but we did not know that three or four weeks ago. If it had turned out to be as deadly as MERS and SARS, or more so, it was on track to be an unimaginable disaster. 

    There is also still so much uncertainty about how long the virus lives on inorganic surfaces (two hours or nine days, I’ve seen both), and how long before, during, and after people exhibit symptoms they are contagious. And it looks like people can become reinfected from it. 

    I think the world, including China, has done an amazing job handling this threat. I’m impressed. 

    I think criticism is a great tool that pushes us to excellence. And I wouldn’t want it to stop. But from my little corner of the planet, I feel like saying, “Well done, everyone!” :-) 

     

    • #6
    • February 26, 2020, at 5:53 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  7. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    MarciN (View Comment):
    We know now that it seems to be milder than SARS in terms of the death rate, but we did not know that three or four weeks ago. If it had turned out to be as deadly as MERS and SARS, or more so, it was on track to be an unimaginable disaster. 

    Actually, we do not know this yet. Much lower than MERS, see the OP, but so far just under SARS. At the same time, MERS was very contained and SARS did not get near the scale suggested by the term “pandemic.” So, we will see about containment and scope over the next month or two. The talk about a second year is very important. The 1918 flu had three waves. The first did not kill as many, then it came back with a vengence, as shown on the CDC 1918 pandemic influenza page:

    • #7
    • February 26, 2020, at 6:04 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  8. drlorentz Member
    drlorentz Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    DrewInWisconsin, Influencer (View Comment):

    Active cases dropping, number of recovered/cured individuals rising steadily.

    It’s bad, but these charts suggest outlook is improving.

    What am I missing?

    ChiComs lie. The stats are dominated by Chinese cases. Do not trust global data. Look at country-specific data that shows different trends, e.g., Italy.

    • #8
    • February 26, 2020, at 6:11 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  9. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    drlorentz (View Comment):
    As of today, only 445 individuals have been tested in the US, aside from the evacuees from Wuhan and the virus cruise ship Diamond Princess.

    S.Korea is testing a *lot* more people. Some people are saying that the US is too slow to turn around tests and not testing enough people. It is hard to know what is going on without more testing.

    • #9
    • February 26, 2020, at 6:15 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  10. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    drlorentz (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin, Influencer (View Comment):

    Active cases dropping, number of recovered/cured individuals rising steadily.

    It’s bad, but these charts suggest outlook is improving.

    What am I missing?

    ChiComs lie. The stats are dominated by Chinese cases. Do not trust global data. Look at country-specific data that shows different trends, e.g., Italy.

    See also my comments in the OP on the importance of including national population in any country-specific data discussion. 

    • #10
    • February 26, 2020, at 6:16 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  11. Bruce Caward Thatcher
    Bruce Caward Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Still we are all doomed

    Definitely. But not from the Corona virus. 

     

    • #11
    • February 26, 2020, at 6:28 PM PST
    • 1 like
  12. EB Thatcher
    EB

    Clifford A. Brown: If you torture numbers enough, they will say anything you want.

    “Figures don’t lie, but liars can figure.” 

    • #12
    • February 26, 2020, at 6:51 PM PST
    • 6 likes
  13. MarciN Member

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):
    The 1918 flu had three waves. The first did not kill as many, then it came back with a vengeance, as shown on the CDC 1918 pandemic influenza page:

    This is why I am so happy that there has been so much progress on the vaccine. I keep thinking that this looks like a second wave of the SARS virus coming back with a vengeance. I hope we will be ready for a third wave. 

     

    • #13
    • February 26, 2020, at 7:14 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  14. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    EB (View Comment):

    Clifford A. Brown: If you torture numbers enough, they will say anything you want.

    “Figures don’t lie, but liars can figure.”

    I thought of dropping that one in as well, but felt it would be gilding the lily.

    • #14
    • February 26, 2020, at 7:17 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  15. Stad Thatcher

    Clifford A. Brown: Novel coronavirus: around 2%, but we do not have the denominator anywhere close to right, so estimates differ greatly

    Good point. I don’t have any faith in the numbers given the source at the virus’ origin (China), and the low numbers of fatalities in developed countries. Has anyone in the MSM attached a confidence value to these figures? They usually do in all the polls showing Trump will lose . . .

    • #15
    • February 27, 2020, at 5:29 AM PST
    • 1 like
  16. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Still we are all doomed

    Well, yes. We will all die. Eventually.

    • #16
    • February 27, 2020, at 7:54 AM PST
    • 1 like
  17. iWe Reagan
    iWe Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I don’t trust ANY data in China. Still, we have a range of countries to choose from: if you look at the table on this page, you’ll see that in many countries that are properly testing, diagnosing, etc. the death rate is much lower, and the transmission rate is not crazy-high.

    Watch Singapore and Israel.

    • #17
    • February 27, 2020, at 7:57 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  18. Kozak Member
    Kozak Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    DrewInWisconsin, Influencer (View Comment):

    What am I missing?

     

    You believe the Chinese.

    Thats the only reason cases aren’t exploding.

    • #18
    • February 27, 2020, at 7:57 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  19. DrewInWisconsin, Negative Infl… Coolidge

    Kozak (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin, Influencer (View Comment):

    What am I missing?

    You believe the Chinese.

    Thats the only reason cases aren’t exploding.

    No, I don’t trust them. I think the reason cases aren’t exploding is because the rest of the world is treating it seriously.

    It’s still unclear to me why the number of cases (and deaths) at Wuhan is so much greater than everywhere else. There are some factors at play I’m not seeing. Sanitation? Poor air quality resulting in underlying respiratory issues among the populace? Better hygiene practices elsewhere? Enough of a warning that other countries could prepare?

    • #19
    • February 27, 2020, at 8:06 AM PST
    • 1 like
  20. DrewInWisconsin, Negative Infl… Coolidge

    https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

    Current trends and analysis:

    • There are now more new cases occurring every day outside of China than within.

    • Worldwide, the number of newly recovered patients has been greater than the number of newly infected every day since Feb. 19 (for the past week).

    • The number of serious and critical cases, as well as of new deaths, is declining worldwide.

    • However, with a declining trend in China and a sharp increase in cases outside of China (where the outbreak is still in its initial stages), it is critical to analyze the two trends separately.

    • The questions we must address now are: 1) What factors determined the decline in China (and, most importantly, the limited spread of the virus outside of Hubei)? 2) Are these same factors (which seem to include very firm and quick actions being implemented at an unprecedented scale) present outside of China? If not, the outcome might turn out to be quite different, unless another course of action is undertaken immediately. In depth analysis, reviewing the findings from WHO’s Bruce Aylward report after spending two weeks in China, to be published later today.

    • #20
    • February 27, 2020, at 8:08 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  21. MarciN Member

    DrewInWisconsin, Influencer (View Comment):
    It’s still unclear to me why the number of cases (and deaths) at Wuhan is so much greater than everywhere else. There are some factors at play I’m not seeing. Sanitation? Poor air quality resulting in underlying respiratory issues among the populace? Better hygiene practices elsewhere? Enough of a warning that other countries could prepare?

    I wonder if it’s China’s very crowded factory working conditions. There are reasons why the Chinese can manufacture so much so cheaply. It’s not just the low pay but also the poor and overcrowded factories.

    • #21
    • February 27, 2020, at 8:37 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  22. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    If the chart the president held up looked familiar, you saw the chart and read about the cross-national comparisons of readiness a month ago right here on Ricochet: https://ricochet.com/716771/hold-my-corona-popping-the-top-on-preparedness/

    • #22
    • February 27, 2020, at 9:20 AM PST
    • 1 like
  23. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown

    DrewInWisconsin, Influencer (View Comment):

    Kozak (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin, Influencer (View Comment):

    What am I missing?

    You believe the Chinese.

    Thats the only reason cases aren’t exploding.

    No, I don’t trust them. I think the reason cases aren’t exploding is because the rest of the world is treating it seriously.

    It’s still unclear to me why the number of cases (and deaths) at Wuhan is so much greater than everywhere else. There are some factors at play I’m not seeing. Sanitation? Poor air quality resulting in underlying respiratory issues among the populace? Better hygiene practices elsewhere? Enough of a warning that other countries could prepare?

    Also, is the claim that the Chinese Communists are hiding tens of thousands of dead bodies? If instead, the claim is they are suppressing the true number of cases, then it follows that the virus is far less lethal than reported numbers suggest. 

    • #23
    • February 27, 2020, at 9:34 AM PST
    • 1 like
  24. The Reticulator Member

    Is “Brownie moment” anything like Brownian motion? 

    • #24
    • February 28, 2020, at 8:53 PM PST
    • Like
  25. Muleskinner, Weasel Wrangler Member

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin, Influencer (View Comment):

    Kozak (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin, Influencer (View Comment):

    What am I missing?

    You believe the Chinese.

    Thats the only reason cases aren’t exploding.

    No, I don’t trust them. I think the reason cases aren’t exploding is because the rest of the world is treating it seriously.

    It’s still unclear to me why the number of cases (and deaths) at Wuhan is so much greater than everywhere else. There are some factors at play I’m not seeing. Sanitation? Poor air quality resulting in underlying respiratory issues among the populace? Better hygiene practices elsewhere? Enough of a warning that other countries could prepare?

    Also, is the claim that the Chinese Communists are hiding tens of thousands of dead bodies? If instead, the claim is they are suppressing the true number of cases, then it follows that the virus is far less lethal than reported numbers suggest.

    If the numerators and denominators are both under reported, there’s no telling what is going on. The death rates might be roughly accurate, but the numbers between Hubei Province and the rest of mainland China are so different, it almost looks like a different disease. Could be due to different responses to the initial outbreak, and perhaps a very much earlier start than has been reported. It will be interesting to compare the South Korea data with the China data.

    • #25
    • March 1, 2020, at 10:13 AM PST
    • 1 like