For those trying to make sense of COVID-19’s statistical noise, there’s help

Being part of the information age in a time of coronavirus can be helpful. Unlike medieval people whom the Black Death caught unaware and helpless, we can see what’s coming. That’s why President Trump, ignoring accusations he was racist and risking his trade negotiations with China, stopped flights from China. The free flow of information also allows the global science community to share data and ideas, pushing us faster towards vaccinations and cures.

Too much information can also be a curse because the data overwhelms people’s analytical abilities. Different countries use test kits with different false positive rates, testing rates within countries vary dramatically, socialized health care systems don’t adapt to crises as well as market-based health care systems, political and individual panic affects mass behavior, and totalitarian countries lie both to their citizens and the world.

Nevertheless, for those comfortable with data, there are discernable trends out there. Aaron Ginn, a number-crunching kind of guy, wrote a long, fascinating article at Medium -- which depublished it on the opaque ground that it was "in violation of Medium rules." In the article, Ginn assembled much of the available data. He crunched the numbers, drowned out the noise, and produced helpful conclusions. Fortunately, the post is still available at Zero Hedge.

Ginn begins the article by explaining who he is and what he's doing:

I’m quite experienced at understanding virality, how things grow, and data. In my vocation, I’m most known for popularizing the “growth hacking movement” in Silicon Valley that specializes in driving rapid and viral adoption of technology products. Data is data. Our focus here isn’t treatments but numbers. You don’t need a special degree to understand what the data says and doesn’t say. Numbers are universal.

Because Ginn's is a long article, it can’t be summed up in a single blog post. However, there are a few things that stand out. For those who believe this is just a flu and no worse than MERS or SARS, that’s correct. But – and this is a big “but” – it’s more contagious, meaning that more people will be at risk, putting greater stress on the healthcare system than MERS or SARS, and resulting in more deaths.

Ginn also shows that the U.S. is handling the outbreak well, both when it comes to the speed with which people are infected and the case outcomes. The slower pace of infections is undoubtedly due to President Trump’s quick decision to shut down our borders. The case outcomes also reflect the quality of medical care here. As the U.S. ramps up its testing abilities, we’ll see more mild cases of the virus. This will increase overall case numbers but lower the mortality rate.

No matter the virus’s aggressiveness, it will always have a bell curve, with the infection rate first accelerating and then decelerating. This will end. Given that the Chinese Virus, like other coronaviruses, hates heat and humidity, it will probably decrease with warm weather. Warm weather also matters because the infection rate is dependent on close, consistent contact. When people go outdoors more, the chance of contagion lessens.

Those are just a few of the takeaways from the massive amount of data Ginn has assembled and analyzed, so it’s worth your time to read the whole thing. Pay attention, too, to Ginn's conclusion, which argues against the panicked responses we see now, all of which increase government power and damage people’s wealth and livelihoods:

Local governments and politicians are inflicting massive harm and disruption with little evidence to support their draconian edicts. Every local government is in a mimetic race to one-up each other in authoritarian city ordinances to show us who has more “abundance of caution”. Politicians are competing, not on more evidence or more COVID-19 cures but more caution. As unemployment rises and families feel unbearably burdened already, they feel pressure to “fix” the situation they created with even more radical and “creative” policy solutions. This only creates more problems and an even larger snowball effect. The first place to start is to stop killing the patient and focus on what works.

The most helpful thing people can do is to wash their hands really thoroughly, keep their hands from their faces, and keep surfaces clean. Because the disease does not transmit well in relatively open spaces (e.g., big stores as opposed to small rooms), there’s no reason to shut down businesses:

The data is overwhelming at this point that community-based spread and airborne transmission is not a threat. We don’t have significant examples of spreading through restaurants or gyms. When you consider the environment COVID-19 prefers, isolating every family in their home is a perfect situation for infection and transmission among other family members. Evidence from South Korea and Singapore shows that it is completely possible and preferred to continue on with life while making accommodations that are data-driven, such as social distancing and regular temperature checks.

With this data, which people are beginning to intuit even without the numbers, people are right to fear government more than the coronavirus. This virus is a problem; the government is a threat.

Again, it’s a riveting article and well worth the time it takes to read.

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