Let's Take A Closer Look

Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986

Friends who know my statistical background have been asking what pandemic numbers I watch, so I thought you might want to see how we make our own reports for the places that interest us by using a simple spreadsheet with only a few numbers and only one formula (calculate %).

DIY Covid-19 stats, self-curated.

We need track only two numbers for each geography that interests us: Cases and Deaths. Our mini-dashboard starts with World numbers pulled from reputable sites with daily interweb updates. You can track geographic areas that interest you, such as your country, county, city, etc. It’s up to you how often you want to do this. We do it only once a week. The numbers and percentages will vary over time, but so far every week’s Case and Death figures have been higher than last week’s.

Yes, it’s a pandemic, but so far, our individual risks are very low.

Table 1 below shows three and a half million cases and nearly two hundred fifty thousand deaths worldwide. The numbers for Cases and Deaths vary widely from source to source for several reasons. Definitions differ, as do reporting cycles and political agendas. Another factor is testing – the more data we have, the more accurate the numbers. For these and other reasons, most statisticians and epidemiologists agree that case and death numbers are surely under-reported. You may recall early on how estimates of USA deaths ranged from 70,000 to more than 2 million. Lately these predictions have been amended to between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths in the USA alone.

While the numbers are scary, the percentages are less so. Three and half million infected is a lot of people, but they are only 0.05% of the world population. A quarter of a million dead is a scary number, but when we look at the percentages, we see only 6.94% of the three and a half million who were infected died from it (248,655 ÷ 3,585,064).

This is one of those times where it is helpful to flip the percentages, especially when explaining to kids.

Statisticians like to look at the same data several different ways. For example, the 0.05% of those in the world who have Covid-19 (3.5 million cases out of 7.7 billion people) means 99.95% of us do not have the virus, probably because so many of us are taking sensible precautions. Further, because 6.94% of those who get the virus die from it, 93% of those who get it do not die (248,000 out of 3.5 million). Scientists say people staying away from crowds has blunted the danger – for now – but as restrictions are lifted, who knows?

The numbers in Table 2 show the USA has a Cases rate seven times higher than the World rate (0.36% to 0.05% in Table 1), roughly speaking. The USA Death rate is just a bit lower (5.77% to 6.94%)

We have read and heard a lot about how bad things are in New York City, so let’s look at those numbers in Table 3 below. Wow! Compared to the USA, NY City’s Cases rate is more than five times higher than the USA’s (2.10% vs 0.36%)! Deaths per Case is less dramatic a difference, but still nearly twice as high as the USA (10.73% vs 5.77%).

We live in Florida, so those numbers interest us. In Table 4 we see Florida’s case rate is half that of the USA (0.17% vs 0.36%) and only one-tenth that of NYC (0.17% vs 2.10%). In Florida, the ratio of Deaths per Case is a bit lower than for the USA.

As we focus in on smaller areas, more detail emerges.

The populations of most states are not equally distributed and Florida is no exception. Florida is divided into 67 counties, but nearly a third of the residents live in just three of them. It is no surprise that Florida’s Covid-19 Cases and Deaths are not equally distributed, either. Dade, Broward, Palm Beach counties make up 30% of the population yet have recorded 60% of the Cases and Deaths. Some of this has to do with population density, some with a large older population, and much of it because 126 million visitors come to South Florida each year, bringing germs from all over the world.

Get your figures anywhere you want but when you <SEARCH>, make sure you add the date or your figures may be past their expiry dates. Also use the same sources each week, of course.

Things seem to be slowing down, so reducing our exposure by avoiding crowds appears to be working – so far.

Places to keep an eye on are those that have recently relaxed restrictions and re-opened for business. Some are calling the state of Georgia the Canary in the Coal Mine, a reference to the days when coal miners took small birds with them down into the mines. The canaries were more vulnerable to airborne poisons than humans, so when the carbon monoxide levels got too high and the oxygen levels too low, the canaries would die. Their premature deaths warned the miners it was time to get out there.

After being one of the last states to close, on April 24th, Georgia became the first to reopen.

The Covid-19 incubation period is between two and fourteen days, so statisticians and epidemiologists are watching Georgia closely. Our plan is to continue ignoring the many contradictory predictions of politicians and soothsayers in favor of watching the data.

Data and canaries don’t lie – people lie.

Update: Forbes reports the Penn Wharton Budget Model (PWBM) says that reopening before June could result in over 200,000 additional COVID-19 deaths. That report also shows if a full reopening results in Americans relaxing their social distancing measures, cumulative national deaths will reach nearly a million by the end of June.

Try Lee Dorsey’s video, Working in a Coal Mine. You get not only the music but also a bunch of gritty black and white photos that give us some idea of what it looked like to work underground years ago.

Take a Closer Look, Volume 2, is free to Kindle Unlimited customers. The best way to protect yourself against the manipulations, distortions and fabrications that are more and more prevalent these days is to learn how to see through them.