Yahoo! “News” has an article today that demonstrates what is wrong with internet coverage of COVID. The article, entitled “Greatest Increases of COVID Deaths Projected in Republican states,” at first confused me, because it wasn’t clear what a “Republican state” is.
The author, Kristin Myers, seems to define a kind of state that isn’t in the constitution or taught in high school civics, but in her defense she probably has not taken the course yet.
She identifies states as “Republican” based solely on the political party of their governors. In addition, the increases in COVID deaths were not an absolute increase in deaths but a “percent increase.”
The apparent point of the story was to relate reduced social distancing with increasing deaths. The author cites no actual statistics but computer projections from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation Modeling, a group whose numbers have been remarkably variable in recent weeks.
The major problem with this assessment is that many states with Democratic governors, such as New York, Michigan, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, have had such high numbers of deaths that any percent increase will be minimal given the starting point. A similar analysis of states using the R.t value (the effective infection rate, a better measure of infectivity), fails to show this association.
Aside from the inaccuracy of this article, its effort to paint death as a political issue is totally inappropriate. This truly undermines any effort to address this pandemic.
A more important article in Atlantic magazine points out inconsistencies in how states are estimating the COVID infected populations and how this causes problems in trying to evaluate trends in infection numbers.
This article focuses initially on Virginia (which happens to have a Democratic governor), which appears to be reducing the rates of new COVID infections by including antibody testing as an indication of prior active infection. This makes the pool of individuals that were previously active COVID infected look much larger and, therefore, makes the percentage of new infections look smaller. Gaming these numbers would help justify more aggressive reductions in social distancing by a particular state.
The Atlantic article also points out that states differ greatly in how they count COVID infections and deaths. While it is not a Republican or Democratic issue, we cannot accurately compare the rates of COVID infections in different states because of their inconsistent reporting techniques. We need to resolve these variations immediately and use uniform measures to understand the dynamics of the current pandemic.