COVID-19 Update: Hospital Vitals Still Stable

The picture couldn’t be clearer. By the most reliable metrics available — the number of patients being hospitalized, patients in ICUs, and patients on ventilators — the COVID-19 epidemic has stabilized.

Other metrics gyrate wildly. The number of “confirmed cases” reported to the Virginia Department of Health surged by 732 two days ago and dropped to 596 yesterday. But those numbers reflect cases reported to VDH, often after delays, which in turn reflects the number of tests available and changing protocols for prioritizing those tests. The percentage of positive tests to total tests has swung from a low of 3% to a high of 39.5% over the past month and a half. Meanwhile many COVID-19 cases go unidentified and/or unreported. In sum. the VDH numbers (through no fault of the department) are worthless as a yardstick for tracking the disease.

Even VDH’s “death” count is questionable. Definitions change, as explained by the Virginia Mercury. Moreover, funeral home directors told the Mercury that they have been receiving bodies of patients who were treated for COVID-19 but the cause of death doesn’t appear on their death certificates. The new definitions of a COVID-related death may be more useful in some contexts than the old definition, but evolving criteria makes the comparison of new data with old data problematic.

Why does this matter? Because out of a hyper-abundance of caution, Governor Ralph Northam announced his decision yesterday to extend the ban on elective surgery for a week, despite powerful evidence from the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association that hospitals have plenty of capacity to spare. An estimated 15,000 Virginians will have their procedures delays. If past is prologue, Northam’s hyper-cautious approach will govern other decisions whether to extend or roll back his economic lock down. The economic pain stemming from the epidemic may be far harsher and more longer lasting than necessary.

Unfortunately, the issue of when to relax emergency measures has become another litmus test on President Trump and his approach to COVID-19. People are taking sides based on their partisan affinities. Reason flies out the window. Here at Bacon’s Rebellion, however, we will continue to base our evaluation on these issues based on Virginia-specific data.