THE BAKER BLOG: Media fails COVID math

COVID-19 “cases” are on the rise as we head into the cold weather months of the year.

What does that mean? Glad you asked. All we need to answer that question is a little third grade math. That means the answer is beyond the grasp of most media.

We can never know the number of people who have COVID at any given time. The only way we could is if we tested everyone every day and got instant results. When your county health department or local TV station tells you how many COVID “cases” there are today, or this week, or this month, they mean that’s how many people tested positive. A positive test equals a case.

If you have at least a third grade understanding of arithmetic, you’ll quickly realize that we can only compare “cases” from week to week if we know how many tests were done from week to week. If we do twice as many tests this week than last, we can expect twice as many “cases” this week, all other things being equal.

Unfortunately, not many people track the total number of tests from week to week, so that we can make apples to apples comparisons.

Ah, but someone did. An article in the Ithaca Journal this week reported there have been 42% more tests conducted in New York this fall than last year at this time. What does that mean? It means if “cases” are up 42% this year from last year at this time, the pandemic hasn’t really gotten any worse at all.

If “cases” is a meaningless number, than what number can we use to make legitimate comparisons from week to week or month to month? The one I have used since the beginning of the pandemic is deaths. That’s the ultimate negative result and the one we most want to avoid. It isn’t tied to any other number. It doesn’t depend on how many tests we’ve done.

So tell us, Ted, what does that number show? In the United States, the seven day rolling average of COVID deaths has been steadily declining since September 22nd, when it was 2,075, to November 30th, when it was 895. That’s a 57% drop. In New York, the rolling seven day average of COVID deaths on November 30th was ten. On June 2nd, it was 11.

That’s right, the number of daily COVID deaths in New York has been pretty much unchanged for five months. Than why are our Governor, our health officials and most of all, our news media trying to scare us to death every day?

You’d have to ask them, but I think they’re just not very good at math.


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