Yes, this is an Astrophotography blog, but it’s also my outlet. So with all the news running around, and partisan divides skewing numbers toward supporting an agenda either way, I wanted to bring some reality to what’s going on around the world and in the US. There’s good, and there’s bad, but we do still need to stay the fuck at home for a good while! This post is only valuable as a whole, and not in this part or that part. The good and bad all go together and are not separate.
For my day job, I run numbers, analyze trends and predict outcomes. I like to think I’m pretty good at it. I know what data is bullshit, and what is real. Although I clearly have a political bias, I’m able to look at numbers for what they are and separate what I think recovery should look like. Hopefully this will help some people who are freaking out, but it does not diminish the seriousness of what’s going on. I have a high-risk child at home and I’m scared shitless to go outside, despite and because I know a lot of the numbers being reported are bullshit.
We have a tendency to look at and report on top-line, high-level numbers and not the meaning behind them – dumbing them down for general consumption. The devil is always in the details.
So what numbers are bullshit?
The number of total cases and number of new cases. Unless everyone with one extra buger was being tested, these are useless on their own. The best we can do is what the CDC does for the common flu and multiply the number of cases by a factor of 10, though the real number of contraction is probably closer to a still conservative 20-25 times the number of actual positive tests. The case for this is that states like my own, due to limited availability, are only testing those who are being admitted to the hospital. By definition, 85% of potential cases are not even being tested. Statistically speaking, the gap between positive tests and number of positive cases not tested will continue to expand as time goes on.
Because the data above is grossly underestimated, the numbers for active cases and recoveries is also relatively useless.
And what numbers are real?
As morbid as it is, total deaths and new deaths are the only hard numbers that tell us anything. They are the only tangible numbers being consistently reported.
So what can the numbers tell us?
We have to use the bullshit numbers and CDC guidelines for flu calculations to give some real perspective on mortality rate. These estimates are based on global numbers for the morning of March 24th 2020.
Total Cases: 396235
Total Deaths: 17250
Mortality rate globally = 17250/(396235*10) = 0.4%
More likely actual global mortality rate = 17250/(396235*25) = 0.17%
What about the US?
Mortality rate in the US = 616/(49193*10) = 0.125%
More likely actual US mortality rate = 616/(49193*25) = 0.050%
OK, so the reality is that with conservative conjecture, the global death-rate is about the same as a moderate flu season, and potentially much lower in the US (so far).
Why are we all staying home?
In the other part of the 2019-2020 flu season, 464 strains of the flu were identified “in the wild” in the US alone! Covid 19 is ONE strain of a coronavirus. That alone makes it far deadlier than any one flu strain. The longer it is in the wild uncontrolled, the higher chance it has of mutating (again) and becoming something else completely.
While the overly simplified argument may look right, the practice of saying that Covid 19 is just like the flu is misleading and twisting numbers to push a false message.
There is a certain level of immunity carried on in people for those 464 identified strains, but there was no immunity for Covid 19, for anyone. So let’s say we all ignore the stay at home orders and act like nothing is going on. 80% of the US population gets the virus. That alone is 435,000 or so people dead. OK, it’s terrible, but the reality would be much worse, and look a little more more like Italy.
Everyone is talking about “flattening the curve”. We’ll use Italy as an example, though it’s not a perfect one. Italy’s system was overrun with a spike in cases, causing their “real” mortality rate to be about 0.38%. People seeking treatment could not get it because steps were taken too late, drastically increasing the mortality rate.
There are several factors leading to Italy’s morbid looking numbers, but one not talked about much. The hardest hit areas are those with a markedly older population. The death-rate per age group actually looks very similar to the rest of the world.
So if the US followed Italy’s trend, the mortality rate will go up exponentially, and we’d see around 800,000-1,000,000 people dead. That sucks hard.
But the US won’t be Italy if we practice social distancing like it applies to everyone and not just those at risk. We’ll have hot-spots in large cities, but the overall population density of Italy is more than 6 times that of the US. We’re seeing the effect of this play out in New York, where the population density is more than twice that of Chicago and the results are playing out exponentially, as would be expected despite cases in Illinois being reported more than a month prior to New York. This country is big, and outside a few tightly packed cities, there’s a lot of space between us. It’s an important factor.
Do we all stay home for 12-18 months until there is a vaccine?
Now part of this is opinion based on people doing what they are supposed to do, but I do believe the infection rate and number of deaths will drop off quickly in late April to early May, with some hot-spots still remaining. The keys to whether or not we can try to resume our normal lives are the success of a treatment and how quickly it can be mass-produced. My money is on Remdesivir. Plasma treatments are also promising, but not something that can be produced as quickly. Obviously more testing is necessary, but preliminary results show Remdesivir with the potential to cut the duration to 4-days, and help people drastically reduce symptoms within 24 hours. We should be getting ahead of the manufacturing of IV equipment like a month ago.
Given the history of vaccine attempts for coronavirus strains, I actually wouldn’t count on a Covid 19 vaccine at all, but rather an overall coronavirus/flu virus vaccine that might be a few years away.
So what about next flu season?
It’ll be back, and then again after that, and then again after that. But with immunity and treatments in place, it will be controllable, each wave less and less, and in a few years unrecognizable among other cornavirus strains.
There is a balance to be struck as long as we have a viable treatment. If we do, we’ll start getting back to normal in a few weeks. Vacations will happen this Summer, the kids will be back at school in the Fall, people will return to work and the economy will recover quickly.
Some of us will no doubt be deeply and personally hurt by this virus. In the end, this outbreak will be a big lesson for the world. One day something will come along with near a 100% mortality rate and the potential to wipe out civilization. That’s not fear mongering. It’s reality. As a civilization, we can’t fuck around next time. We’ve had our generation’s warning. The technology that’s melting our brains is also great enough to overcome just about anything… if we use it the right way, quickly, and politicians act like responsible adults.
Some good sources for data and information: