Amy Acton guesses wrong, and Ohioans pay the price

Ohio liquor stores and abortion facilities are open for business.  Small businesses are shuttered.  Real estate owners are not receiving rent on their investments and will soon face foreclosures.  Ohio has been crushed with layoffs.  Religious leaders, looking to our governor, have shuttered all worship services.

Ohio's elected leaders need to quickly ease the public lockdown.  The data provided by the Ohio Department of Health as of April 6, 2020 tell a clear story.

I affirm that this virus is not a joke, particularly for the individuals and families who have been hit with it.  Also, four weeks ago, state officials did not know how serious this might become and were fearful of a terrible outcome.  Yet the numbers now demand that less fear and more prudence is needed.

There have been 119 coronavirus-related deaths in Ohio.  There have been 9,678 deaths nationwide with 67% of these coming from the very largest cities in only five states.  Ohio's death rate is 1.2% of the national total. 

On March 12, Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, and Governor Mike DeWine told Ohioans that there were already 100,000 of us infected with the virus.  The next day, Amy clarified that this number was her "guesstimate."  She was relying on a projection from a Harvard professor of epidemiology who himself guesstimated that between 20% and 60% of Americans will have the virus.  Using the most pessimistic number of 60%, Dr. Acton worked the math backward into Ohio's population base to arrive at her 100,000 infected number.

As of April 6, the confirmed cases in Ohio are not 100,000, but 4,043.  Two statistics should guide lockdown decisions.  The first is the number of confirmed cases reported per one million population.  The second, and more important, is the number of confirmed hospitalizations per million people in Ohio.  Simply put, how many people are getting sick, and how many use up hospital beds?

Based on an Ohio population of approximately 11,688,000, if Amy Acton's guesstimate of 100,000 infected were correct, that would equate to 8,555 cases per million.  Yet the actual number is 346 per million, only 4% of her guesstimate.  That difference amounts to much more than a rounding error.  The coronavirus infection rate is concerning, but it's not the end of civilization.  To give perspective, let's compare today's 346 per million rate to the total of general infectious diseases reported in Ohio in 2018.  That number was 11,186, or a rate of 1,045 per million.  Compared to all of last year, the Ohio coronavirus as of today is indeed a high number per million of infectious diseases.  It's about 33% of last year's total, and this is only April. 

Yes, people in Ohio are getting infected.  Does infection mean automatic admission to the hospital?  Hardly, and numbers don't have to be guesstimated.  Of the 4,043 confirmed Ohio cases, only 27% (1,104) have required hospitalization.  So what percentage of Ohio's population have gotten the virus and required hospital admission?  Less than 1/100 of 1%.  Yes, but what if we haven't peaked?  Even if the hospitalization rate triples in two weeks, the percentage would be less than 3/100 of 1%.  For this, the lockdown has pushed 468,414 Ohioans on to welfare, slammed shut our small businesses and closed our churches for the highest Holy Week of the year.

Amy Acton guessed wrong.  The guess has damaged many lives.  Reason and prudence require an immediate adjustment to Ohio's lockdown. 

Jeffrey C Barefoot, J.D., CPA, CFP is the founder and president of a wealth management firm located in Ohio.