Fixing the public’s understanding of COVID-19 data with real risks of contracting the virus

A major concern for experts that has come up during the pandemic is how misunderstood COVID-19 data has been by the public.

The public has been given numbers, rates, percentages, and estimates for various things. These include infection rates, deaths, hospitalizations, vaccinations, vaccine efficacy, and so many other things.

While the public is given these numbers, it doesn’t mean everyone understands them. This can lead to a misunderstanding for things like how serious things are, or whether people are overreacting. It also leads to inaccurate policies and procedures.




These things, or COVID data, need to be fixed in order to move forward.

Physician Tracy Hoeg shared the importance of fixing the public’s relationship with COVID math.

The first point she shared was that one size doesn’t fit all; risks should not be framed in terms of a generic person.

The media has talked about COVID as if all details are relevant to everybody when that just is not the case. The single most important factor when determining risk for COVID infection is age. That doesn’t get a lot of discussion. The decreased risk of mortality in children is also downplayed.

People are not understanding that the risk of a child being hospitalized is less than 1%, and a person 65 and older is 23%. The masses guess and say 50% for everyone when that is not factual.

Another way to fix the understanding between COVID data and the public is to place risk assessment in the context of other risks.

This means that when talking about COVID risks there needs to be context.




Discussing one piece of data, like the hospitalization rate for children at one hospital, is not put into perspective for the listener.

Hoeg uses the example of drowning and car accidents, stating the rate of death for children is much higher but parents still let their kids swim and ride in cars.

By not giving someone a comparison and giving a piece of data with no context, it doesn’t allow the person to assess the data properly.

People are also letting other harmful risks take hold in order to diminish the risk of contracting COVID. Obesity, depression, and anxiety are all risks that have increased greatly due to the attempt at lowering the risk of COVID.

Hoeg points out that percentages mean nothing to the general public- raw numbers are what need to be discussed.

One example is when saying children make up 20% of new cases. Of course they will, when the other populations are vaccinated and they aren’t.

Finally, data should be reported in terms of age and risk factors, not the general public. Not everyone is exposed to the same set of risks if contracting COVID.


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