COVID-19 stats: the good, the bad and the ugly ‘data’

By John W Clark*

There is so much to say about the astounding events of the past three months that I have struggled to decide where to start and in what format to deliver my thoughts and arguments.

Things are changing so fast that writing a detailed report of my findings would be outdated before they are published. So I’ve decided to share shortish ‘dispatches’ in the hope that I can positively contribute to the future of Australia and (gotta dream big, right?) maybe even the world at this most bizarre juncture in history.

Global what, you say?

For the record, I have a 93-year-old grandmother whom I love dearly. She has a heart condition. I also have many other older relatives near and dear to my heart, so I have skin in this thing. No doubt so do you.

Whilst this is going to be hard for some of you to read, I’m not going to do you a further disservice by sugar-coating – I’m in agreement with Lord Sumpton’s description of current events as “collective hysteria”[1]. I have been dissecting the numbers, commentary and human behaviour in great detail since things started heading south, and this description is the most consistent with my observations of both the public and the elites/political leadership.

If I’m correct, then many readers of this and future dispatches are going to struggle to absorb the content without feeling confronted or perhaps even offended, but at the same time find themselves unable to articulate their objection in a rational manner.

If that’s you, please stop right now and take five minutes to meditate and breathe deeply before reading further, because everyone urgently needs you to re-engage your rational mind to help get this country back on course before irreparable damage is done to our country, our economy, our system of government and our social fabric.

First, the numbers, but in context and properly described

I’m continually astounded and saddened to see COVID-19 data being so widely misreported and misunderstood, because the stakes are extremely high. What is almost always lacking is:

  1. Broader context,
  2. Descriptions of the uncertainties involved,
  3. What the data is actually telling us, and
  4. (Just as importantly) what the data is NOT telling us

I can’t cover all the issues in one dispatch, but I’ve decided that context is the issue I’ll tackle first.

So, here we go:

Global Statistics (as at 13 April 2020)

Global populationca. 7,800,000,000
Total deaths per year (all causes)ca. 55,000,000
Typical total deaths per year of persons over 70 years of age (all causes)ca. 27,000,000
Typical total deaths per year due to communicable diseases (all types)ca. 10,000,000
Total deaths per year due to outdoor air pollutionca. 4,600,000
Total deaths per year due to a bad flu seasonca. 650,000
Alleged number of COVID-19 deaths to date***114,257

Australian Statistics (as at 13 April 2020)

Australian populationca. 25,000,000
Total deaths per year (all causes)ca. 160,000
Typical total deaths per year of persons over 75 years of age (all causes)ca. 105,000
Typical total deaths per year due to communicable diseases (all types)ca. 6,000
Alleged number of COVID-19 deaths to date***60

*** Note: For numerous reasons (see below) most people are being misled about what the “official” COVID-19 death counts actually mean. See below for more information.

In other words, the number of alleged*** COVID-19 deaths is currently:

  • 0.2% of all deaths globally
  • 0.4% of the total yearly deaths of the elderly due to all causes
  • 1.2% of the total yearly deaths due to communicable diseases
  • 2.5% of the total yearly deaths due to outdoor air pollution
  • 18% of the total yearly deaths due to a bad flu season

So, what other way can there possibly be to describe the current COVID-19 death toll other than “not significant by all relative measures?”
“But but but….!”, I hear some of you say.

But… but… but…!

So some of you might be thinking:

  • “But but but… we’re only a little over one quarter of the way through the year so you’re not making a fair comparison!”

\OK, no problem. Even though the number of deaths per day appears to be declining, let’s be overly pessimistic and just multiply the above COVID-19 death toll by four to project the absolute worst case scenario.

“But but but… if we hadn’t instigated lockdown and social isolation the death toll would be MUCH higher”

OK, but remember that SARS-COV-2 is a highly contagious airborne virus. Social isolation only slows the spread, it does not stop it. Exposure of all persons to this virus is, more or less, inevitable.

Social isolation merely flattens the curve, which means that more of the critical cases (which are a small proportion all the total infected) can be aided by the medical system and have their death delayed.

So again, let’s be exceedingly pessimistic and multiply the current number of deaths by five to account for not “flattening the curve”[2] to project the absolute worst case scenario.

OK, so if we multiple the current alleged*** COVID-19 death toll by four and then multiply that by five the global worst-case COVID-19 death toll for the year would be around 2,300,000 persons.

So how does this “absolute worst case” total of 2,300,000 deaths look in broader context? Let’s see:

  • 5.4% of all deaths globally. Again, in this context COVID-19 still barely registers even in this worst-case scenario.
  • 8.5% of the total yearly deaths of the elderly due to all causes. Even under this worst case scenario, COVID-19 is barely registering.
  • 23% of the total yearly deaths due to communicable diseases. If five times as many people die each year from all forms of communicable disease, why are we singling out COVID-19 as some kind of special case? We could save many more lives if we socially isolated the world semi-permanently to prevent all the other communicable diseases. If you agree, I hope you like living in caves, know how to light a fire without matches and hunt with a bow and arrow.
  • 50% of the total yearly deaths due to outdoor air pollution. If twice as many people die each year just from air pollution, why are we discriminating against these people?

Why not lock down the world to stop air pollution each year? Also, there’s no immunity to air pollution, so every year this number of people (approximately) is dying from air pollution. Our current strategy for minimising harm caused by air pollution is to work within a functioning economy to set up rules and incentives to reduce air pollution. We don’t bring the world to a virtual halt and demand that we don’t restart our economy until there’s no more air pollution deaths.

  • 350% of the total yearly deaths due to a bad flu season, which is definitely significant and would be deserving of solemn mention and concern. So in this worst case scenario we’ll experience a terrible flu season.

As sad as it is to see anyone die, to bring the economy of the world to its knees for the sake of an extra bad flu season is simply unreasonable and incredibly disproportionate to how we handle all the other preventable causes of premature death in the world today.

How meaningful are the COVID-19 statistics anyway?

This dispatch is already longer than I’d planned. I would have liked to explain why the total case count and Case Fatality Rate is statistically meaningless from the point of view of assessing this global viral outbreak, but that will need to wait for another dispatch (hint: it’s meaningless due to the extreme shortage of testing resources).

What I will discuss here is how the meaningfulness of the COVID-19 death count (arguably the most important metric by far) is already lower than most people realise, and the risks of further compromise to the reliability and meaningfulness of that number is growing:

Official recordkeeping rules and the issue of comorbidity

It is always heart-rending and horrific to watch footage of people on ventilators, struggling to breathe. Hundreds of millions of people have been fixating on Italy and the death count there.

The problem is Italy, like other countries, counts persons who were infected with SARS-COV-2 at time of death in the official COVID-19 death count regardless of whether or not they actually died from COVID-19.

In fact, the most recent study I’m aware of shows that only 12% of the official Italian COVID-19 death count were actually officially recorded as having died from COVID-19[3]. Prof Walter Ricciardi, scientific adviser to Italy’s Minister of Health stated very plainly[4]:

“The way in which we code deaths in our country is very generous in the sense that all the people who die in hospitals with the coronavirus are deemed to be dying of the coronavirus. On re-evaluation by the National Institute of Health, only 12 per cent of death certificates have shown a direct causality from coronavirus, while 88 per cent of patients who have died have at least one pre-morbidity – many had two or three”

In other words, only around 2,400 of the 19,899 (as of today) likely died from COVID-19, the rest died of other causes but with a SARS-COV-2 infection that may or may not have contributed to their death.

In the USA the CDC also permits death certificates to be issued citing COVID-19 based only on “presumption” of COVID-19, and these will be included in the official USA COVID-19 death tally.

Whilst there are some practical and reasonable arguments for permitting “presumption”, this undeniably undermines the meaningfulness of the data.

It also provides fertile ground for exploitation when money becomes involved (read on).

Hospitals in the USA are financially incentivised to increase their COVID-19 patient count

Dr. Scott Jensen, a Minnesota family physician and Republican state senator, spoke recently with Laura Ingraham on Fox News and revealed the following:

“Right now Medicare has determined that if you have a COVID-19 admission to the hospital you’ll get paid $13,000. If that COVID-19 patient goes on a ventilator, you get $39,000; three times as much. Nobody can tell me, after 35 years in the world of medicine, that sometimes those kinds of things [have] impact on what we do.” [5]

So the doctors can “presume” COVID-19 and the hospital they are working for can get paid up to USD $39,000 for each COVID-19 patient.

This should, at the very least, give pause for reflection.

That’s all for now. Fingers crossed I’ll be able to share more sooner rather than later.

ENDS

John Clark is an Engineer (Electronics and Computer Systems, Honours Class 1A) with professional specialisation in metrology (measurement science). Active trader in financial markets for over 20 years. He is a passionate and (some would say) obsessive researcher of economics, finance, health and human behaviour. He strives to be a generalist and understand the “bigger picture” in addition to his specialisations. He is most grateful for having a job that provides flexibility and lots of time with his wonderful wife and two incredible daughters. Shortly after world events took a turn for the bizarre, John started a Telegram Channel entitled “WTF Just Happened” to download the thoughts in his mind, which you can join via https://t.me/wtfjh

  1. “Coronavirus rules are ‘hysterical slide into a police state’, warns top judge”, Nicola Bartlett, Mirror (UK), 30 March 2020 https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/coronavirus-police-state-hysterical-slide-21780341
  2. Despite the fact that I take serious issue with the current Australian Government modelling, for the purposes of this exercise let’s accept their projection that “flattening the curve” will reduce the peak ICU requirements by a factor of 7, but also recognise that this peak demand is only short-lived, so I’ve applied a factor of five. Govt modelling here: https://www.health.gov.au/news/modelling-how-covid-19-could-affect-australia
  3. “Characteristics of COVID-19 patients dying in Italy. Report based on available data on March 20th, 2020”, COVID-19 Surveillance Group, 20 March 2020. https://www.epicentro.iss.it/coronavirus/bollettino/Report-COVID-2019_20_marzo_eng.pdf
  4. “Why have so many coronavirus patients died in Italy?”, Sarah Newey, The Telegraph, 23 March 2020. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/have-many-coronavirus-patients-died-italy/
  5. “Minnesota doctor blasts ‘ridiculous’ CDC coronavirus death count guidelines”, Laura Ingraham, FOX News, 11 April 2020 “https://www.foxnews.com/media/physician-blasts-cdc-coronavirus-death-count-guidelines

 

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5 Comments

  1. A welcome voice of reason and analysis in this bizarre time of “collective hysteria”. Most impressive thank you. Would that panicked government based “risk treatments” on such objectivity and perspective. Your next dispatch is keenly awaited!

    Mark Jarratt
  2. Your State Parliament building or local MP’s office is a great place to get some exercise and fresh air, especially on a Saturday afternoon. At a safe social distance from others, of course.

    Remember, your muscles are like your rights. Use them or lose them.

    Sophia Ernst
  3. Your stats are good —- and worthwhile. We will never get true incidence while reagent is scarce and rationed.Nobody’s stats are accurate .Australia only tests respiratory illness with fever.Iceland found that about 50% of Cov +ves ,were asymptomatic. Australia is underdiagnosing. Eventually we will serological test a whole city, and we will discover incidence vastly higher and death risk vastly lower.In the meantime we are still learning.Will people acquire life immunity ( like measles ) or none ( like HIV), or partial ( like Influenza) .Will Cov mutate up to dangerous ,or down to gentle . This is a work in process.
    Meanwhile – thanks for your analysis

    Ross Sinclair

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