In what seems to be a weekly phone-in with friend and Fox front man Sean Hannity, President Trump claimed the latest WHO estimate of COVID-19 global mortality rate of 3.4% is “a false number.” Vox’s Aaron Rupar tweeted this is “astoundingly irresponsible.”
CNN’s Brian Stelter, one of the more vociferous Trump-haters on that network, called the comment “spurious” in a headline. Now Trump is being Trump, and riffing his own personal thoughts. He called it a “hunch.”
“You know,” Trump said, “all of a sudden it seems like 3 or 4%, which is a very high number, as opposed to a fraction of 1%. But again, they don’t know about the easy cases because the easy cases don’t go to the hospital. They don’t report to doctors or the hospital in many cases. So I think that that number is very high. I think the number, personally, I would say the number is way under 1%.” Hannity televised Trump’s irresponsible “hunch” to the world…
Such high dudgeon from Stelter, as if he knows better. Last week, WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “the case fatality rate is between 2% and 4% inside the city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, and 0.7% outside of Wuhan” based on results found by a team of scientists who returned from China.
A WHO-led team of scientists that just returned from China found that the epidemic in that country peaked and plateaued between Jan. 23 and Feb. 2 and has been declining steadily since then, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, said at a news conference at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva.WHO says coronavirus outbreak in China has peaked, new cases in Iran and Italy are ‘deeply concerning’, CNBC, Feb 24 2020
Now, a different official, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s health emergencies program (An aside: WHO is an incredibly dense bureaucracy, and they have many people with impressive-sounding titles who speak for the agency. That never ceases to intrigue me.), said:
Here we have a disease for which we have no vaccine, no treatment, we don’t fully understand transmission, we don’t fully understand case mortality, but what we have been genuinely heartened by is that unlike influenza, where countries have fought back, where they’ve put in place strong measures, we’ve remarkably seen that the virus is suppressed.”WHO says coronavirus death rate is 3.4% globally, higher than previously thought, CNBC, March 3, 2020
Tedros told the media that “globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died.” That’s the source of this week’s number. It’s a total aggregate, including every nation reporting cases and every known outcome. It’s also a flawed number that fluctuates greatly by geography, countermeasures, and time.
One researcher believes that COVID-19 may have been spreading in “cryptic transmission” for up to six weeks before the outbreak was reported. If true, this could mean there are a lot more unreported cases than we’ve seen in the U.S.
Trevor Bradford, a computational biologist at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, analyzed two COVID-19 samples.
In announcing his findings on Twitter, Mr Bedford wrote: “I believe we’re facing an already substantial outbreak in Washington State that was not detected until now due to narrow case definition requiring direct travel to China.”Coronavirus has been spreading for weeks in the US undetected, researchers say, The Independent, March 3, 2020
Putting two and two together, it seems that Trump heard about this report and mulled it over in his mind.
The U.S. is widely recognized by foreign media to have one of the most professional, well-prepared and effective health emergency responses of any nation on earth. As much as liberal politicians poo-pooh our healthcare system, outside of rural areas, where COVID-19’s spread is less likely (how many peanut farmers have been to Italy lately?), there are many options to people feeling sick to go and get tested and receive treatment.
Since many of the symptoms of COVID-19 are exactly the same as a mild case of seasonal flu, or even a cold, we really don’t know how much it’s spread until millions are tested. It’s very possible that there are orders of magnitude more cases in the U.S. than have been officially reported. It’s very possible–even likely–we will only hear about reported cases where there’s a clear link to foreign travel (as in Fulton County, Georgia), or where there are deaths (as in Snohomish County, Washington).
With such small populations reported, logic would dictate that we’re seeing an inflated mortality rate, because of sample bias.
Of course, we do need to do something. We need to take proper countermeasures. I don’t think the president was advocating sick people going to work. He’s simply saying that many people would rather go to work and tough it out than stay home and use PTO or not get paid. The “easy cases” where people don’t feel go-to-the-hospital-bad and haven’t been to Italy, China, South Korea or Iran are the ones that wouldn’t be reported.
Many in the media automatically take a position in opposition to Trump, no matter what he says. If he says we shouldn’t be traveling to China, they criticize him for sowing panic and not trusting the “science.” If he says the number of cases in the U.S. may be underreported, thereby inflating the mortality rate, they say he’s making “irresponsible” and “spurious” remarks that lead people to not take the virus seriously, and he’s not trusting the “science.”
Folks, the “science” changes daily on Coronavirus. We don’t have all the answers. Trump’s hunch is as good as yours, mine, Brian Stelter’s, or Barack Obama’s.
Follow the science is good advice. But the science is going to change daily. The death toll is going to be somewhere between 0.7% and 4% depending on where the virus strikes, the health of the population, the quality of the healthcare there, age, and sanitation.
If you wash your hands thoroughly, don’t share towels, don’t touch nasty faucets, door handles, and dispensers with your bare hands in public places, and take simple precautions like wiping down your work station with disinfectant wipes, chances are you’ll be fine.
I am worried that schools, daycares, and elder care facilities will be hard hit, and that’s where we will see outbreaks reported. This is going to be bad for our economy. But there’s no reason to call Trump irresponsible based on his hunch that the mortality rate in the U.S. is low. I think many health professionals share Trump’s hunch.
But none of that matters, because in certain media businesses, outside of the friendly studio where Hannity is broadcast, it’s all about Orange Man Bad.