Numbers and More Numbers

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I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before (there was no reason to) but I have a degree in Statistics. Now that hardly makes me an expert but it just explains why I love numbers and data. And, with no sports and “social distancing”, I just decided to go play around with WHO numbers. They do a situation report every day showing new confirmed cases from all over the world.

There is this story being written here in the US that we were behind in testing (true) and that somehow that would have made a difference in the outcome (speculation and likely false). The media love to cite South Korea as the model for testing (and they were) but Italy has performed a lot of tests as well and things are still out of control there. To be fair, I don’t have information on the testing in Italy to know if the bulk of it has been after things started to go south.

Always a funny quote for those of us in the field.
Wait! Who really said this?

I’ve only taken the WHO numbers back to March 1st and I’m only tracking a handful of places because who wants to enter that many numbers. Although, I may go back and add a few based on the latest report.

Anyway, the point is that back in early March, South Korea was averaging roughly 500 new cases per day. The US generally had less than 50. Kind of a more serious problem in South Korea at the time and certainly why widespread testing was warranted. But testing without isolation isn’t going to solve anything. And would have accepted the government shutting down the NBA, NHL, MLB and the NCAA tournament based on a handful of cases? Probably not. Suspect many of the same voices now being critical for not testing would have said this was an overreaction.

Again, I’m cynical about politics, but so much of this just smacks of the party out of power trying to use this to get back into power. And the best way to do that is to attempt to blame the party in power. For the record, I’m no fan of the current guy at the top. All you can rightfully say is that testing might have gotten us to the “social distancing” earlier than last Thursday.

Did Twain REALLY say this?

Now we just get to numbers. Maybe you’ve heard these. Maybe not. For the first four days in March, over 80% of the new reported cases came from South Korea, Italy and Iran. South Korea has seen a drop off as they are now at roughly 110 new cases per day. Not zero but certainly not the 500 they were seeing in early March. The stories in Italy and Iran are not as good. Both were slightly behind South Korea in early March. Italy has had over 2500 new cases the last two days and Iran’s figures are over 1000. On March 14, new cases in those countries still represented 40% of the total new cases in the world.

So the US is picking up the rest, right? Yeah, no. It is true that the US had 414 new reported cases on March 14th which is the highest total to date. That ranks sixth behind Italy (2547), Iran (1289), Spain (1266), France (790) and Germany (693). The big increases are in Europe – specifically Spain, France and Germany but there are a couple of other places that may also see spikes.

If they haven’t already, Spain will soon pass South Korea for fourth in the number of total cases.

None of this is to minimize what is happening here. There are certainly pockets in this country where it is bad. But France just announced that they are closing all “non-essential” public locations which includes restaurants, cafes and nightclubs. Spain did the same thing last week and is considering a 15 national lock down where people would only be allowed out for emergencies or to buy food or go to work. Could we get to that stage? Certainly it is possible but, right now, there are places that are having to resort to much more drastic measures. Wonder if the media there are complaining about testing?

We haven’t yet reached a point where the number of cases outside China is greater than the number of cases in China but that will likely happen within a week based on current trends. For now, the data out of China and South Korea suggest it can be contained. The data out of Europe is frankly a little scary and I hope the steps they are taking help get it under control. We don’t really know what the course will be here. But it is frankly silly to think that it could have been stopped by a single action.

Which is why I’ve also decided to just isolate myself from sources that are openly political and where people want to assign blame. It doesn’t help. I’m just going to stick with the data.

I’m not one to read more into this but I do think a lot of the panic is because we place too much faith in science. I mean we are the smartest creatures on the planet so shouldn’t someone be able to FIX THIS. The reality is that we just don’t know anywhere near as much as we think we do about the world around us. And that for all our intelligence and, perhaps arrogance, a primitive life form like a virus can basically upend our world.

I think the US is now completely out of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. There were also runs on things that claim to boost your immunity. The store we were in yesterday was essentially out of soup, macaroni and cheese, pasta and bananas. Think with schools closing all the Moms realized they’d need to feed their kids and hit the stores. Also some people late to the prepping game. Crazy times for sure.

Be prepared but don’t panic. And think of others. Only buy what you need. We’re all kind of in this together.

A few more quotes – in this field, you need a sense of humor!

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