The maddeningly unknown data on the Wuhan virus

The ongoing Wuhan virus hysteria is immensely frustrating to those trying to understand and think clearly, because the information available is incomplete, the key question (how lethal is it?) is unanswered and the vast majority of media coverage and "analysis" so infantile and innumerate.

It would appear that Real Clear Politics has taken to publishing a daily death rate by country, using diagnosed cases as the numerator.  But testing penetration of populations varies by country, and everywhere is heavily weighted to the very sick, missing completely the possibly huge number of Wuhan positives who are only slightly ill or have no symptoms at all.  A death rate based on that numerator is grossly misleading in an alarmist direction.

Potentially further calling into question the value of the published numbers is that there are apparently no international standards for when a death should be attributed to the Wuhan virus.  In Germany, it appears that they are strict — i.e., death must have been caused by the viral flu, not the underlying condition that put the usually elderly person at high risk.  To some extent, at least, this may account for Germany's extraordinarily low death rate, even employing its known cases as numerator.

Italy, on the other hand, may be inadvertently inflating its death numbers by including virtually all deaths in Wuhan-positive persons in their total, regardless of apparent actual cause.  There is some evidence that Italy performs postmortem Wuhan tests, and if the body tests positive, the death is attributed to the virus — though, in fact, the (e.g.) 87-year-old who had been suffering from heart failure for months was carried off by his underlying, largely age-related frailty.

American governments' unprecedented shutdown of the nation to combat the Wuhan virus is causing incalculable economic damage, which, over time, will cost lives.  Rarely discussed but also to be measured in lives lost is the diminished likelihood that under these circumstances, a house-bound population will seek, or be able to obtain, medical attention for other potentially serious and life-threatening conditions or sudden health crises.  And then there is the fact, well known forever, that serious mental illness, suicide, and violence all occur more frequently in conditions of severe economic distress or social isolation.  Both together to this degree is a new joint phenomenon.  It will be interesting to see how, or whether, America's epidemiological establishment measures these very human costs of what we are doing.

On a normal day in America, somewhat more than 7,500 people die.  During the cold months of every year, a not insubstantial number of those deaths is caused by the seasonal flu, usually concentrated among the frail elderly.  Is the Wuhan virus more lethal than seasonal flus, which we endure each year without panic or self-inflicted ruin?  Despite all the noise, no one knows.

The current extraordinary measures can be justified only if the expected spread and lethality of the Wuhan virus both substantially exceed that of seasonal flus.  These questions could be answered by widespread random testing of the population, but that has not happened and does not appear to be on the visible horizon.

Perhaps the secretive, untrustworthy, and generally odious Chinese communist dictatorship already knows the answer to these questions.  If so, maybe that's why China is again open for business and normal life, while America and the West cower in their homes, wreck their economies, and very possibly suffer widespread medical harm and fatalities unrelated to the Wuhan virus.

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