In Science and Medicine, Facts Matter
In scientific research and evidence-based medicine, the data and facts should guide responses, decisions, therapies and treatment. Switching that order—choosing a “desired” outcome, then manipulating or doctoring the data to arrive at the outcome you’ve “chosen”—is both misleading and dangerous, especially when dealing with a highly contagious & potentially lethal viral illness, during a global pandemic.
The Most Ignored Criteria For Reopening States: 14-Day Downward Trend in COVID-19 Cases
Several news outlets have reported a disturbing trend in certain states—presenting Coronavirus data in ways that are inherently misleading or inaccurate—while at the same time, justifying the reopening of those states.
An important criteria in the “Opening Up America Again” guidelines issued by the White House, stipulates that cases should be on a “downward trajectory of either documented coronavirus cases or of the percentage of positive tests over a 14-day period.”
Unfortunately, most states that have reopened (or are reopening), fail to meet these White House guidelines (or the CDC guidelines, which have recently become available).
Inaccurate COVID-19 Information in Georgia
In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp’s office issued an apology after a chart posted by the Georgia Public Health Department, wrongly reported a downward trend in coronavirus cases (at least the third error in as many weeks).
If you look at the charts below (courtesy of “Georgia Department of Health’s Master Class on Misinforming with Statistics,” by Joey deVilla), the dates for the COVID-19 case counts are not listed in chronological order, which fools the eye into believing there is a downward trend. The first chart is the original one published. The second shows the out-of-order case count dates more clearly. And the last chart displays the data in chronological order.
Another curious charting choice has added to the confusion: ordering the counties differently for each date (the color-coding should be in the same order for each day, for accuracy purposes). Kemp’s press secretary apologized for the doctored graph, and said officials thought it “would be helpful.”
To be clear, providing misleading or inaccurate information during a global pandemic, is not helpful.
There is also the problem of the 14-day reporting lag in confirmed cases, which limits the full view of what’s happening in Georgia. According to Georgia Tech biologists, Stephen Beckett and Joshua S. Weitz in their recent Slate article, “Georgia’s Reopening Depended on Missing Data,” there’s “a lag between when COVID-19 is found and when we know about it.”
That lag may be due to the delay between infection, testing confirmation and the reporting of test results to the state. Cases are usually assigned to the date of the onset of symptoms (or to the date of the test, if the symptom onset date is unknown), which may also contribute to the lag. Because the confirmed case numbers are always adjusted retroactively, the most recent case reports don’t provide a real-time picture of the current COVID-19 situation—there’s always a delay.
Taking these factors into account, the number of cases in Georgia wasn’t actually declining when Gov. Kemp lifted the stay-at-home order. The number of newly reported cases showed a “plateau”-like trajectory, with cases fluctuating day-to-day instead.
Withholding COVID-19 Information in Florida
As Florida starts to reopen, a recent article in Florida Today reported that Rebekah Jones, the architect and manager of Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard, announced she’d been “involuntarily” removed from her position after being ordered to censor data, but refusing to “manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.”
If true, it is alarming and unethical and does the residents of the state of Florida a huge disservice.
We Can Handle the Truth, So Please Don’t Lie, Downplay, Mislead or Hide Information
“Happy talking” or downplaying a healthcare crisis should not be considered “spreading hope,” but rather spreading misinformation.
When government officials fail to honestly and accurately present information to the public during a pandemic, it causes anxiety and alarm, rather than instilling confidence and trust.
In times of crisis, especially when health-related, honesty matters and integrity (acting in a truthful and trustworthy manner) is crucial.
Just Do the Work
Just tell us the truth and show us that you are doing the work.
Making sure healthcare providers, first responders, and essential workers have the PPE (personal protective equipment—masks, gowns, gloves, face shields, goggles, hand sanitizer) needed to safely do their jobs is a start. If employees in health care facilities, grocery stores, water utilities, post offices, meat processing plants and other work sites are mandated to work, why not follow guidelines to ensure they have safe working environments?
Tell us where COVID-19 cases are spiking, so people in those areas are aware and can govern themselves accordingly. Then investigate and assist those places, to prevent further spread of coronavirus in those communities.
Refrain from blaming the victims of COVID-19 for falling ill (or perishing) from the disease, as a cover for an inadequate and mishandled reponse to this pandemic in this country.
Let us know what to expect and when to expect it.
COVID-19 cases will increase the more things open back up, so why not say that clearly? Then work to reduce the transmission of coronavirus as much as possible.
What People Want
No one wants for COVID-19 cases and deaths to continue to increase. Just as no one wants to prolong the economic devastation caused by this pandemic and its mismanaged response.
What people want is a comprehensive plan to contain the spread of COVID-19, by doing what we know works best—hand-washing, mask-wearing, social distancing, expanded testing, contact tracing, isolation (if positive) and promoting pandemic public awareness in a way that is uniform, clear, honest, data-driven and evidence-based.
People want financial relief and assistance from the economic strain of this pandemic. They want to avoid seeing their small businesses close, being laid-off or furloughed, seeing their childen go hungry or standing in a food bank line that circles the block. They want to avoid the furthering of economic inequality in this country. People just want their taxpayer dollars to circle back around to help them when they need it most… which is now.
We want to see and feel empathy from those in charge of managing this pandemic. Recognition that the steadily increasing numbers of total cases (1,504,830) and total deaths (90,340) in the U.S., are not just numbers, but represent illness experienced, lives lost and families that are changed forever.
People want the unity that comes from facing this challenge as a country and knowing that we are all in this together and have each other’s best interest at heart.