Where are all the trackers?

By this we don’t mean all the contact tracers that never came to be, but all those lurid, red ink numbers about COVID-19 that used to be on the front page of all our news websites.

Oh right, numbers are going down now. That’s not news. Let’s wait and hope they go up again. Get those clicks! Gotta scare or anger people to get engagement, baby!

Statistics of varying utility are still out there, though. Each state in the United States, for example, has some form of tracking posted. Politics and competency still impact this reporting, of course.

But with the power of middle school math, you can still learn some useful things.

Why useful? Because if we are ever going to learn from this experience as countries and societies and have a better, more targeted and planned response the next time around, we have to be have data and we have to interpret the data as dispassionately as possible.

Let’s look at a recent data set from North Carolina’s dashboard. North Carolina helpfully provides percentages of cases and deaths by fairly reasonable age groups (they still do a 25-49 nonsense.) What they don’t do is do the math to provide numbers to go along with each of the percentages, or provide general population percentage for the ages.

First, let’s look at what they do provide. (From August 31, 2020)

Age range       Percent of reported cases       Percent of reported deaths (from cases)

0-17 (18 years)        11                                         0

18-24 ( 7 years)       16                                         0

25-49 (25 years)      42                                         5

50-64 (15 years)      19                                         16

65-74 (10 years)      7                                           23

75+ (?? Years)          6                                           57

Let’s now add in both total population percentages for each age group, and actual numbers.

At the time of this snapshot, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported approximately 169,000 “cases” in North Carolina since the start of tracking, and 2,740 deaths.

We can find tables of age percentages for North Carolina (for example https://www.statista.com/statistics/911474/north-carolina-population-sha...) We can then redistribute those breakdowns to approximate the DHHS categories. For example, in the stastica chart there is no 25-49 breakdown so we can add up 25-34 (13.3 percent) and 35-44 (12.6 percent) and then for ages 45, 46, 47, 48 and 49 we can divide the 13.3 percent for age group 45-54 by ten (as it is ten years) and then multiply the resultant 1.33 times 5 for 6.6 and add up the three numbers. Thus, we find that approximately 32.5 percent of North Carolina residents are ages 25-49.

For a math refresher (feel free to skip if you don’t need): A percentage of something is found in the following way. If you want to know what “percent” of 1000 the number 15 equals, you will divide 15 by 1000 and then multiple by 100. So 15/1000 equals  0.15 and that times 100 equals 1.5 percent. If you want to know what is the actual number is  1.5 percent of 1000 then you have to go back to the 0.15, either mentally or by dividing by 100, and then multiply 1000 by the 0.15. And you get 15.

Updated chart for North Carolina (numbers may vary slightly due to rounding)

Age range    % NC pop     % reported cases (number)    %reported deaths (number)

0-17               22.5                 11 (18,590)                                 0 (0)

18-24               7.4                 16 (27,040)                                 0 (0)

25-49             32.5                 42 (70,980)                                 5 (137)

50-64              18                   19 (32,110)                                16 (438)

65-74              9.8                  7 (11,830)                                  23 (145)

75+                 6.5                   6 (10,140)                                  57 (1,562)

Seeing it laid out this way certain things really do jump out at you. The most obvious thing is the discrepancy in deaths. For people under 50 in North Carolina there had been at the time of this recent snapshot, approximately 116,610 reported cases of COVID-19 infection and 137 deaths. That’s a rate of 0.12% or basically one death per 1000 reported cases. But the situation changes when you look at the 65 and up age groups. Although they make up 16.3 percent of North Carolina’s population and 13 percent of reported cases, they have incurred 80 percent of reported deaths.

Clearly, we have to get away from this “we are all in this together” nonsense. This is not just nonsense, it’s dangerous nonsense. Why? Because for certain groups, such as people under 40, the damage from lost jobs, mental health issues, violence, isolation, education loss and future income loss (all of which can cause death and affect heath, by the way) far outweigh any threat from this virus. People over 75 that contract the virus, on the other hand, have about a 15 percent chance of dying. In today’s world, for people with access to modern medicine, that’s a pretty high percent. That’s worse than the overall survival rate for almost all cancers.

For all medical issues, there is no intervention that is without risk. For infectious diseases there is no respiratory virus that never produces fatalities. The trick is to match the most effective and low risk treatment possible with the targeted problem.

For example, amputating a leg at the hip would be an appropriate treatment for a 10 year old boy with an aggressive bone tumor. Amputating that leg at the hip for an ingrown toenail would not be an appropriate treatment. And amputating the wrong leg for a patient with that tumor would also be inappropriate. The worst case scenario would be amputating the wrong leg—for a hangnail. The point is that an extreme intervention can be warranted—but it has to applied to the correct problem. If it isn’t, it will do more harm than good.

We leave it for you to decide where your government/bureaucracy/media/healthcare entities’ response to COVID-19 falls.

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