COVID-19 Update: Pick Your Data to Support Your Narrative

COVID-19 data has been published today that can either calm you or alarm you, depending upon your inclination — or your support for or against Governor Ralph Northam’s economic lockdown measures.

On the positive side, the chart above, taken from Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association data, indicates that COVID-19 still is not straining the capacity of hospitals to treat the most severely afflicted patients. ICU and ventilator use is trending down. Virginia hospitals have 5,433 beds available and only 1,455 patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection. Surely, we can allow most hospitals to resume elective surgeries, put healthcare practitioners back to work, and help people with a variety of medical conditions.

On the more worrisome side, the seven-day trailing average of COVID-19 cases is still trending higher — at a subdued, arithmetic rate of increase, as can be seen below in John Butcher’s graph, but higher nonetheless.


If you like running around with your hair on fire, that’s that trend you should be focusing on.

Other data sets tell a tale of an epidemic that is still spreading, though not very rapidly. The Virginia Department of Health reported 4,062 new tests, 565 new cases, 12 new hospitalizations, and 10 new deaths in today’s data.

Testing and the shutdown. Governor Northam has set a goal of seeing a declining rate of infections based on 10,000 tests daily before relaxing his draconian economic shutdown. The good news is that testing has ramped up considerably — doubling from roughly 2,000 daily to 4,000 daily over the past week. The bad news is that the results are exceedingly difficult to interpret, if not downright meaningless. Only a small percentage of tests are positive — 13.9% of those whose results were reported yesterday had the virus.

The declining rate of positive tests, down from a peak of 39.5% positive,  suggests that a lot more results are coming in from private labs. These tests are driven in large measure by patients who think they might have the virus and ask to be tested, not by protocols used by the Virginia Department of Health that prioritize the sickest patients based on their symptoms. We are not getting a random sample, and I don’t see how the Governor can use these numbers in guiding his decisions affecting the economy.

— JAB

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52 responses to “COVID-19 Update: Pick Your Data to Support Your Narrative

  1. My observations this weekend, as we took only totally necessary trips out of the house, indicate many in the public are just done with this. The long line of people waiting to get into Strange’s Florist out at Short Pump. We made a furniture purchase, and while the store was empty when we shopped, my wife reported it crowded when she want back Saturday to finalize the order. Cars were lined up to pick up BBQ, with the store employee running in and out with the bags. I hit the grocery store and Lowe’s, both very early so they were quite empty. Stay at home? All those other people… (oh, my, look at my own list of store visits…..)

    What was imposed almost seven weeks ago could never be maintained forever. Cases will not go to zero.

    • My observations are the same. There’s definitely more traffic on the road — and it’s worst on Saturday. A lot of people have no problem working at home. But they still need to run errand, and they’re less inhibited about doing so.

    • I said the same and posted the same last week. The stimulus checks are going to be Northam’s nightmare.

    • It doesn’t bother you that there was a long line at a florist’s?

      I have found that Lowe’s was far more crowded than the grocery. I suspect that time on the hands, and spring cleaning has driven the urge to deal with the house and lawn.

      With the gym closed, I’ve been forced to walk and run in the neighborhood. Damned highly crowned roads are killing my down-slope leg and foot. But, geez, it is dead quite in the ‘hood.

      • The waiting lines are the thing – for ANY service. The one at Walmart the other day was about 25 people waiting for the 7am open and they were 6 ft apart but it extended to the edge of the sidewalk and if there were any more than that – it would have gone into the road.

        Similarly at Lowes, they have closed the entrance to the garden center and made it an exit only and the “entrance” became a side door in the store – and the line extended well into the store itself with in-store
        shoppers mingling with the garden-center line.

        This is going to be a problem at many activiites – like K-12 schools if/when they reopen… lines waiting for school buses, lines waiting for lunch or other activities. Ditto at places like DMV or at pharmacies…at the post office….etc

        and this says nothing about manual doors getting touched over and over by people who have been going into and out of a place with non-automatic – manual doors.

  2. Northam is a useful idiot in service to national Democrats. Those Democrats desperately want the economic fallout from the COVID-19 lockdowns to be severe enough to justify financially bailing out failed blue states like Illinois, Connecticut, etc. The alternative is that those fiscally irresponsible states declare bankruptcy and renegotiate their absurd public sector benefit and pension plans. That will alienate a large voting block for Democrats. Instead, national Democrats need the economic crisis from COVID-19 to be sufficiently severe for residents in fiscally responsible states to bail out the failed liberal states under the cover of COVID-19.

    Northam is happy to sell out Virginia at the urging of Nancy Pelosi and other national Democrats.

  3. Lots of traffic up in the Fredericksburg area. Some of it is just people out for a drive – tired of being cooped up ( remember when we used to do that?)

    Lowes and Home Depot are slammed on some days. All kinds of home projects apparently underway!

    The drive-throughs on the restaurant chains are also slammed at times.

    Early morning is the way to go if you want to “get and go”.

    I walk most days in Bloody Angle National Park – the crowds get heavy later in the day. I’ve taken to picking up trash including of all things, plastic bags of dog poop that people clean up after their pets then drop the plastic bag of poop along the roads and trails.. it boggles the mind what they are thinking.. why not let the dog poop OFF the road/trail and leave it like it was racoon poop or the like?

    The Park Service does NOT pick up trash and so there are real worries that they will close the park if it is getting “trashed”.. thus several of us are picking up after others… What in the dooda is wrong with people?

    • | then drop the plastic bag of poop along the roads and trails

      Kinda of like recycling. Its all just social projecting.

      • Yup. They had to lock up the rest rooms also… so between the dog poop and the human poop… a real mess… Heard some poor fool say: “I wonder why they locked the rest rooms”….

    • Fredericksburg? There’s always traffic in Fredericksburg. Hollywood uses Fredericksburg’s roads for apocalyptic movie scenes because 50% of the cars are filled with people who starved to death on the way to the office.

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Manassas Battlefield is the same way. Loaded with joggers and dog walkers. You should try out Cedar Mountain Battlefield near Culpeper. Perfectly preserved, great trails, good signs, and not a soul to be seen.

  5. I will… give it a try – it’s not that far, thanks!

    but as you are suggesting – there are quite a few places that are less well known and even now lightly attended.

    I highly recommend an hour a day if your body is up to it.

    It’s marvelous therapy for being cooped up.

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      Hiked seven miles with my 75 year old Dad at Manassas Battlefield today. Discovered the original Warrenton Turnpike bridge abutments over Youngs Branch. Well made. Looks like it could be used today. Too cold for people today. Hardly saw a soul.

      • That’s a pretty fair walk. Probably 3-4 hours unless ya’ll were shifted into high gear! Meals after that are guilt-free and sleep comes easy..
        Sometimes with a little aspirin… I usually do about 3 mph on 3-4 mile walks.. and slow it down for longer…

  6. Burke Lake is my escape. I was fishin but now I see Fairfax Co has decreed there be no fishing from county parks from the shores. I am not sure who owns the water (VDGIF?) but VDGIF is apparently following what the county wants to do. So after gearing up to fish via kayak, and doing one short trip, I now have to get my kayak off the car. Its confusing because people assume we are allowed to fish in Virginia.

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      From the Code of Virginia:
      § 29.1-534. Right to fish in interjurisdictional inland waters.
      A Virginia resident or a resident of an adjoining jurisdiction which has inland water lying adjacent to Virginia land or water may take fish with hook and line after complying with the requirements of the laws of the jurisdiction where the fishing occurs. For purposes of this section and § 29.1-535, the term “jurisdiction” shall include the District of Columbia.

      You could be the Patrick Henry for fishing!

  7. The news from DOC is mostly not good. Most importantly, a second inmate has died from COVID-19. The inmate had been housed at Deerfield and was one of two from that facility that was hospitalized. There is no information from DOC as to whether the deceased inmate was one of the geriatric patients.

    Also, the total number of incarcerated inmates testing positive has increased from 232 to 287, an increase of 55, almost 25 percent. Most of that increase occurred at Haynesville, which went from 67 to 106. However, that increase could have been expected because Haynesville was one of the facilities in which DOC has tested all the inmates. It cannot be determined from the data how many of the positive cases at Haynesville are asymptomatic.

    A third piece of bad news is the addition of another prison, Buckingham, in which positive cases have been found. (7 cases)

    Buckingham Correctional Center is within sight of Dillwyn Correctional Center, in which positive cases first were reported several days ago. It seems likely that (1) the virus was spread from Dillwyn to Buckingham, probably by staff or (2) the same outside source brought the virus into both institutions, with the Dillwyn inmates showing symptoms sooner than the Buckingham inmates. This is a good illustration of how contagious the virus is and how hard it is to contain it. It might be interesting for VDH to examine the incidence of COVID-19 cases in localities near prison with outbreaks.

    The one piece of good news in today’s report is the continuing decrease in the number of positive cases at the women’s facility in Goochland, the first prison in which positive cases were reported.

    • So here’s a question. How would a prison differ from a rural town in Virginia in terms of it’s susceptibility to coronavirus?

      Would it be – as susceptible , more or less?

      • Less susceptible to initial infection. Admission to prisons is strongly restricted. Anyone entering a prison is screened using infrared/temporal artery thermometers (forehead thermometers). According to DOC, “There is a separate screening tool for employees. All employees must assess their risk on a daily basis prior to reporting to work.”

        However, once the virus is introduced into a prison, it would be more susceptible to its spreading. Inmates have much less opportunity to engage in social distancing than residents of a rural town do.

  8. SACRILEGE!

    You are totaling screwing up the ” open up now Gov Guano or we’re going to raise Caine” folks!

    How dare you advocate for some pseudo intelligent path forward!

    Good Job!

  9. Re: DOC cases — it’s inevitable; and it seems to be coming on slowly, given the experience elsewhere. But it will accelerate. I hope there are medical facilities that can take the surge of patients from DOC (with the necessary security) in the vicinity of each center.

    As for getting outdoors, Virginia has so many wonderful hiking locations. From NoVa my personal favorite is the Signal Knob trail from near Elizabeth Furnace (or one of its variants, such as up to Buzzard Rocks). Elizabeth Furnace is a picnic area alongside Passage Creek, a short distance into Fort Valley off Rt. 55 just west of Front Royal. One hour from the Beltway and another world away; well used for walking but I’ve never seen it crowded. This is all National Forest land and the trails around there are not restricted to my knowledge.

  10. Not nurturing any particular narrative, but in yesterday’s print NYT the graphic for “Highest avg daily growth rate of deaths” had Virginia Beach at #4 and Richmond at #5, data through April 24th. Today, Virginia Beach is at #8 and Richmond is not in the top 15. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/04/23/upshot/five-ways-to-monitor-coronavirus-outbreak-us.html What concerns me is that Northam has pegged any reopening to “14 days of declining cases.” We could see a precipitous decline in new cases yet have a single day increase and go on that way until December.

  11. Quarantine North Virginia & Richmond

  12. In an order that seems consistent with those of other courts that struck down bans on abortions due to the pandemic, a Virginia Circuit Court in Lynchburg struck Northam’s ban against operating a gun range during the state’s partial shutdown. Who would have thought? The Constitution cutting many ways?

  13. Now that every American is an expert on statistics, public health and epidemiology, it strikes me that the missingest numbers have to do with recovery. The only measurable count is hospital discharges. I’m not sure how the info would shape policy or management decisions, but it’s strange to know so little. People I know have had 4 weeks of dragging, still coughing, never hospitalized, but not fully recovered. CDC wants fever gone for days and 2 negative swabs before pronouncing you recovered, but no one is lining up for that test.

    • re: ” The only measurable count is hospital discharges”

      okay. So is that your view or science?

      • I looked at CDC’s description.—Time since illness/symptoms onset, time since fever, time since improvement in respiration, negative test . I’m wondering how we’ll measure those who are home-caring, virus-positive tested or not. I don’t interpret discharged as recovered; they’re patients who are not sick enough to stay. Have you seen any recovery stats? It’s not the most critical data at the panicked front end of a pandemic, more important to preserve testing for infection, but leaves an endless sense of overhang in the numbers. Seems like this will be bigger discussion as workplaces consider their re-opening methodology.

        • So my question is a two-part:

          1. – where is the CDC getting these numbers? Are they just WAGs from bureaucrats or are they based on science?

          2. – Do any of us have the scientific boni-fides to be able to legitimately question the metrics ?

          Yes, I realize that even the science is in flux… and also there is such a thing as “good” and “bad” science but I still don’t think the average person has enough academic background to know.

          This is really two HUGE fields – epidemiology and data analysis – neither of them are things one can just read about and get the same depth of understanding that someone who has years of academic training and years of working in the field – yet many treat these folks as just “another opinion” no better than their own.

          • Bacons Rebellion and followers have devoted themselves to the COVID-19 data, politics and policy. You have spent hours hashing over these things. Why do back off due to lack of expertise now?
            I’m not expressing an opinion. I’m asking the question: how can recoveries be counted if they are at home and there is no testing or follow up? I’m not questioning the CDC’s definition of recovery, I’m asking if anyone has seen any recovery data.

            Also, every time someone tells me “I am following the science” they prove that there no singular “science” answer.

          • I totally agree with Lift. The “science” of COVID-19 is all over the map, changing almost by the day. There are multiple controversies among reputable people in the field.

  14. Lift says:
    “The only measurable count is hospital discharges.”

    I add:
    Plus how many squirts Va. politicians and their crony allies can milk outta all government teats found or created.

    Once milking exhausted, the crisis fades.

    That’s only sometimes. Problem is when weaning gets near impossible. Take racism, there milking goes on and on, for generations.

  15. Here’s a Metric for you:
    Fifth District Survey of Manufacturing Activity
    https://www.richmondfed.org/research/regional_economy/surveys_of_business_conditions/manufacturing
    Fifth District manufacturing activity declined sharply in April, according to the most recent survey from the Richmond Fed. The composite index plummeted from 2 in March to −53 in April, its lowest reading and largest one-month drop on record.

    • So here’s the question. What kind of manufacturing? And did it close down on directives from the govt or on it’s own?

      Hint: ” the largest one month drops on record” is kinda ordinary right now, correct?

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