Thursday, August 13, 2020

Some questions in search of sound answers re: COVID-19

 by Don Keith

Once more, I'll veer slightly away from rapid technological change for a bit. But not really. Technology is racing along yet seemingly unable to give us much reassurance when it comes to the one thing most on our minds these days.

We are now...what?...six months into this pandemic. I'd say we've spent billions fighting and studying it. (Somebody is making money, by the way. They aren't burning that currency in barrels somewhere to scare away the Chinese bug with thick smoke. It's going into somebody's bank account.) We've allowed it to radically alter our lives and economy. We have armies of people who supposedly know what they are doing performing both those functions--studying and fighting--and yet as much as I try to follow developments, I still see so many questions going unanswered. Or incorrectly answered. Or politicized by all sides.

1) Are we really still considering all positive tests as "cases" and, if so, is that a good measure? What is the error rate of the more commonly used tests? I personally know more people who tested positive and then tested negative...sometimes multiple times...than I do those who actually had symptoms of COVID-19. I know others who had symptoms of something, tested negative for COVID, but still got counted positive because of lung congestion and cough. There are other viruses out there, folks. And they didn't run and hide just because the new guy came along.

2) Do we still count as a COVID-19 hospitalization and/or death those who present with something else entirely...even heart attacks or accidental injury...then test positive for the virus?

3) I saw a study this morning that teens who vape have a 5- to 7-times greater likelihood of contracting the virus as do those with good sense...er...those who choose not to vape. Do we have any idea at all of the number of infections by those of all ages who smoke or vape--smoke anything, including pot, but good luck getting that number--who catch coronavirus compared to those with good sense...er...those who do not. Seems that would be a good stat to know when we start isolating and protecting folks most likely to get the virus. Simple question: what percentage of cases and deaths are/were regular smokers? Please tell me we are asking that question. And reporting it to some central repository of data. And using it to fight and study.

4) Could we not settle on one standard way of counting cases, positive tests, negative tests, symptomatic individuals tested who are negative AND positive, non-symptomatic individuals tested who are negative AND positive, positive tests that were later negative, hospitalizations, intubations, ICU cases, and deaths? How can we come up with accurate data if every hospital, local health department, national agency, media outlet, Facebook user, and politician counts and interprets these crucial numbers differently? Often based on his, her or its own agenda. Then throws them into one big, scary pot. Or is that the idea, counting anything possible as a "case" and "death" to scare us into wearing masks and staying the heck at home?

5) And finally, can we please, please, please have somebody reporting these data in a clear, consistent, understandable way on a regular basis, along with what they mean and what we are doing to make things better? Somebody we can trust? Not somebody whose funding, grants, career advancement, personal popularity, media ratings or website clicks, or political party and/or career depends on the spin placed upon such data?

By the way, the media ain't the answer to this last question. They have done a huge disservice throughout this thing so far. Example: one local TV station starts every newscast with, "Our state now has XXXX cases of COVID-19, setting a new record for infections." "XXXX" is the total number of positive tests since the end of February. Far as I can tell, every single one of those either recovered (more than 98%), died, or turned out to be false positives...or will. There certainly are not that many active cases right this red hot minute. And if there is one new case today, yes, it sets a new record. One more case/positive test tomorrow breaks the record again. It only takes one to set a new record! And they and other media continue to show us that cumulative graph which starts at zero cases in February and frighteningly climbs to XXXX today over there on the right-hand side. And if they format the graph just right, it is an almost vertical climb. What is the purpose of such a misleading and useless graph other than to make us look and come back tomorrow to look again? Incidentally, it may eventually flatten out.Unlikely since we will likely always have a few new cases of this virus, just as we do with just about every other virus that has come along. It will NEVER go down. That I can assure you.

Just asking...

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