Opinion

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Closing Range

So Much Wrong, So Little Time

Do you get the feeling our policy responses are not matching reality?

When I wrote about COVID-19 in April, we didn’t know much. What we know now, seems to be wrong. One of the points I hit then, was the need for widespread testing, not only for infections, but for antibodies. Well, it’s not widespread enough. A friend of mine had symptoms (negative test) but another friend had contact, and went into quarantine. Three weeks later, the “contacted” guy is still waiting for HIS test results. And we’ve now been told, asymptomatic Montanans shouldn’t get tested until the backlog clears. Jeeze!

Another thing we needed was the epidemiological statistics needed to adapt until either a vaccine or cure happens. But I’ve yet to see local (forget national) coverage that digs past the usual daily death tolls (always headlined as a “grim milestone”). Just the other day I saw a terrible local headline: “Flathead exceeds 200 total COVID cases.” Well, 78 are “currently active” with five in the hospital. However, 121 are recovered. Aren’t recoveries newsworthy?

Frustrated, I went poking around on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, which honestly has way too much information, with not enough summarized. For example, the “Weekly Count of Deaths by State and Select Causes” for this year has 34 columns and 4,372 rows of numbers. I banged down through that mess to Row 790-something and the week of July 18: Florida, 4,412 natural cause deaths. Heart, 897. Cancer, 833. COVID with “comorbidity,” 580. COVID alone, 535.

Montana, row 2,187? July 18 was a slow week, with 138 natural deaths, the recent average runs in the 170s: Heart, 34. Cancer, 34. COVID? Well, Montana has deaths, but CDC doesn’t list them in that table.

Elsewhere on CDC, I found an interactive chart (constantly updated) reporting at the death peak in April, 15,754 over age 55 died, including 5,638 over 85. Under 55, 1,203. Is that significant? Oh, yeah – I’m 60. Also significant, probably more so, is the national “curve” has been flattened, although you’d never hear that on the news.

How flattened is it? For the week of July 18, over-55 mortalities totaled 2,696, under-55, 249. Again, that huge break in age – and a big drop in weekly deaths.

After that wade through the “Weekly Count,” I went to a site called Worldometers, which posted a list of New York cases in May. Fully 96% of those who died were over age 45. 75% of deaths had confirmed “underlying conditions.”

What are those? I’ll get to that. The trouble with death statistics is, they’re deaths, not infections. So what is the death RATE once infected? Again, Worldometers had something in digestible form.

Over age 80, the all-cases death rate is around 15 percent; seventies, eight percent; sixties, three point six. Under that, 1.3 percent on down, under 40 under zero point two. For men, the death rate seems about 40 percent higher than women, with infection evenly split.

What about the underlying conditions, or “comorbidities?” Those matter. Worldometer showed probability of dying to be: Heart (10%), diabetes (7.3%), chronic lung problems (6.3%), high blood pressure (6.0%) and cancer (5.6).

What if you have “no pre-existing conditions?” Zero point nine, which cleaves to some more numbers I got from the Hill’s “coronavirus briefing:” Worldwide 16 million cases, 662,000 deaths gives a 3.9 percent death rate. In America, 150,000 deaths out of 4.4 million cases have a 3.4 percent death rate. Here, Montana’s public health site shows 3,676 cases total, and 54 deaths as of July 24. Death rate, one point four. Active, 1,117, far outnumbered by 2,088 recoveries.

Of the 54 deaths – well, Montana’s outcome chart doesn’t add up, but of the 47 fatalities shown, all but two are over age 60. Of the 196 cases hospitalized, the average age was 66. Not hospitalized? 34.

Finally, there’s CDC’s “Excess deaths from COVID 19.” On average, about 55,000 to 60,000 Americans die per week from all causes, with early winter seeing the highest rate normally. Okay, remember the weekly COVID mortalities from July 18? 726 – or 1.3 percent “excess.”

Do you get the feeling our policy responses are not matching reality? Me too — I’ll explain next time — if you can make it another two weeks.