What we’ve Become

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Our local paper was in full “doom and gloom” mode this morning. I honestly just put the first section away and go for the sports and comics. That’s the only reason I still get a paper. The headline was about how bad the trends look here and the article was about hospitalizations and how we rank second per capita. And how things are getting worse and the hospitals are worried about a post holiday surge. There were the obligatory stats about bed occupancy and how it was higher than we were in the spring. There were concerns about staffing at the hospitals which I can’t speak to. And a story online about the large number of deaths reported today.

I saw a stat which I couldn’t find a source and the place it came from is biased so take this as unverified. Supposedly, the coverage of COVID here in the US has been almost exclusively negative. Its been mostly negative in other places but we may be setting the bar for negative reporting.

I’m kind of thinking that whenever the media starts in with their scare stories on hospitals, it means we’ve actually hit a peak and that things are moving in the right direction. I know that’s not entirely true but it sure feels that way sometimes. Because I still have a lot of spare time on my hands, I started tracking the number from our state’s website. They do a great job of presenting all kinds of information.

And, to be fair, a couple of weeks ago, things were in a rapid accelerating phase and it did look scary. I didn’t start tracking until the 11th of November but we added 500 people in 6 days from the 11th to the 17th. In the 13 days since, we’ve added just over 400. There still seems to be plenty of ICU capacity and admissions may actually have peaked on the 19th. If you are talking about trends, things look a whole lot better now than they did a couple of weeks ago. Still not great and we need to see it going down but I wonder if we’ll get a follow up story in a couple of weeks if we don’t see the post holiday surge and we do start to see the numbers come down. I’m not going to hold my breath.

With the death numbers, there is a clear pattern in the results. For the last three weeks, there is always a peak on Monday (which gets posted on Tuesday). There were 142 deaths reported today. Yesterday, there were 38. Did it really shoot up that much? Of course not. Delays in reporting because government doesn’t move at the speed of light. The article did make a point that the “vast majority” were in the last week so maybe people can make the connection that it doesn’t mean 142 people died yesterday. But there were a few from back in October that weren’t reported until today. It happens.

The other thing that has been true all along is that death is a lagging variable. The number of deaths happening now says a lot more about where things stood two weeks ago then where they do now. The raw case numbers have been dropping for the last week or so. Again, we need to wait and see if there is any impact due to the holiday but I could look at all the numbers and say the trends are better than they were – even if there is still a long way to go before we can conclude that the wave is over here.

I had an interesting experience on Thanksgiving when we did a family chat over the internet. My siblings and their spouses are not dumb people but they just seem to accept at face value what they are told from their particular information sources. I tried to have a conversation with my brother about masks back in September (I don’t believe they are as effective as people want to claim) but he was having none of it.

Where my sister lives, they just shut down a lot of the outdoor entertainment options – like the zoos. We haven’t done that here and there was some subtle comments about how we’re just more backwards here. Because I hate conflict and because I accept there is little use in starting an argument, I just stayed quiet. But here’s the thing – is there real evidence that this thing has been spread by people at outdoor venues? Or is this just a way to exert control and make it appear like you are “fighting” the virus. See, I’d like to see data to justify this decision. And they’ve decided to shut things down for three weeks. How did you pick that length of time?

But this seems to be what we’ve become. I think because there is so much fear pumped into the system that people start demanding action – any action – when we start to see numbers spiking. We can’t have a simple conversation about pros and cons and whether the action is going to help or not. WE JUST NEED TO DO SOMETHING!! So people run around with their hair on fire and start enacting restrictions and policies that may or may not be sound or even thought out. But it makes them look like they are fighting the virus so those that are scared of it approve and those that question are often shouted down.

And I’m not minimizing the threat. Its a serious things. Its clearly highly contagious and capable of taking off at frightening rates. But we are also nine months into this thing and we know a heck of a lot more than we did when it started. Its not the second coming of the Spanish flu. It primarily preys on the elderly and those with several other complications. Not exclusively but the risk to young, healthy people is almost zero which wasn’t the case with the Spanish flu. It would be nice if we could ramp down the fear being pumped into the system by the media and just maybe be a little less reactive and a little more rational about our response.

Sorry I kind of got off on a rant which wasn’t my intention. Maybe this is the result of bottling up what I couldn’t say to my family. Guess it needs to get released somewhere. Anyway, this is kind of why I do this thing with the numbers. There are others who do it better but I’m trying in some way to take a more balanced look at what it going on. Or at least balanced in my mind – I’ll admit I see a lot much more of the silver lining than the clouds.

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