Post #1033: Will we ever get public health officials who can do simple arithmetic?

Posted on February 26, 2021

Or who can be bothered to look at simple data analyses before holding a press conference?

What sets me off today is this CNBC article in which the U.S. CDC director tells a story about the recent bottoming of the third U.S. wave of COVID.  Apparently the spread of the U.K. variant is to blame, because, at least according to this article, that now accounts for 10% of cases.

It really doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that a strain that is 40% more transmissible, but only accounts for 10% of cases, and is growing smoothly, cannot possibly be responsible for the sharp turnaround in the trend.  A few weeks from now, sure, it could drive a slow turnaround from reductions to increases.  But a hairpin turn, on 2/21/2021?  Nope.  Not even remotely credible.

It “lacks face validity”, in the jargon of the social sciences.

See Post #1021 and others if you want a more serious look at the numbers.  This table remains right on track, as of 2/21/2021, for the U.K. variant as a proportion of all cases, based on data published by Helix, Inc.  (Though obviously not on track w/r/t/ the observed growth in cases, owing to the apparent end of the U.S. third wave on 2/21/2021.)

The other completely nonsensical thing about this statement is that it ignores the state cross-section.  California is thought to have an exceptionally high proportion of these more-transmissible variants.  But cases continue to fall unabated there.

By contrast, the CDC shows six states where the U.K. variant has not yet been found.   Yet, new case counts in those six variant-free states have risen far faster since the 2/21/2011 bottom than in other states.  The median change for those six states was 14%, while the median for the rest of the states was 2%.

In short, the variant-free states have a much faster rate of new-case growth, right now, than the states where some cases of the U.K. variant have been identified.

It’s tough to say whether these top officials know that that are spouting nonsense, and simply do not care, due to the need to find the next scary story.  Or whether they don’t know, and are simply parroting what their staffs have told them to say, to provide the next scary story.  And it’s the staff that doesn’t care.

But surely the technical staff within the CDC know that if 10% of cases are the variant, it’s absurd to assert that this U.K. variant is the cause of the hair-pin turnaround in the U.S. new case rate.

At least, so I hope.

I understand that part of the CDC’s job is to herd the sheep (Post #989).  So anything they can do keep up the anxiety level is probably fair game, from their standpoint.

But at some point, if they’re going make up scary stuff, it should at least be realistically scary.  I mean, COVID cases have stopped falling and are starting to rise again.  That’s scary enough in its own damned right.  You don’t need to embellish that with clearly incorrect and fictional details.