These are unprecedented times.
The information coming from policy makers and the news media can be overwhelming, misleading and contradictory. Are we over-reacting or under-reacting? How much worse than the flu is COVID-19? Will public health measures last for weeks, months or years?
The answers to these questions at this point in time are not entirely clear. This is largely because we do not have the data we need to provide the answers.
As the articles referenced below make clear, we do not know the actual infection rate. Without this number (which requires random sampling to determine), we cannot precisely calculate hospitalization and fatality rates.
As a result, we have to make assumptions to guide policy making as we respond to the outbreak in a very short period of time. With extraordinary public health measures in place in California and much of the country, we should have substantially more data to guide our decisions over the next three weeks (and this will be the subject of my next post).
For now, I wanted to provide everyone with links to three opinion pieces that provide useful perspective on the pandemic, its size and severity, and the courses it could take with various public policy responses:
The first piece is by Justlin Lessler, a professor at The Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health:
The second piece is by Stanford University professor John P.A. Ioannidis:
If you take anything away from these pieces, please let it be the following:
» The infection rate is much higher than the number of confirmed cases, which means hospitalization rates and fatality rates are much lower than simply dividing hospitalizations by confirmed cases or fatalities by confirmed cases.
» Focusing on raw numbers (e.g., number of cases and number of fatalities) rather than rate of increase or decrease can be misleading. You need both to form an accurate picture of the trajectory of the virus (e.g., Italy recorded 601 deaths on March 22, but this is 192 fewer than two days before (a 24 percent decrease), which could mean that Italy’s extraordinary lockdown measures that began two weeks ago are starting to have their expected impact, right on schedule).
Please stay safe and take your social distancing responsibilities seriously. One thing we do know for certain is that social distancing works at slowing the spread of viruses.
— Brian Goebel served as a senior official in the Treasury and Homeland Security departments following 9/11. Since 2005, he has founded successful consulting and analytics firms serving governments around the globe; launched 2040 Matters, a nonpartisan public policy blog dedicated to restoring the American Dream for younger Americans; and was elected to the Montecito Water District Board of Directors in 2018. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.