VA COVID Deaths Drop Again. Distrust the Data.

By Steve Haner

The Google satellite photo shows Rhine River cruise boats parked recently at Basel, Switzerland, probably including the one that my wife and I would have been boarding tomorrow morning. Losing a scheduled cruise is of no concern against all the other human and economic costs of this pandemic, but it provides a slightly different illustration for a COVID story.

It’s time for another check on how Virginia is doing.   

The numbers on the Virginia Department of Health dashboard continue to show improvement. They should be encouraging. But there is strong reason to doubt them because of past instances when a flood of back data was added late. Sadly, an apparent downturn now may just create the opportunity for future overheated media reports about the inevitable uptick.

The seven-day average on deaths, which is calculated as of a week back to account for reporting delays, is now running about three per day as of October 1. But over the prior few weeks, similar readings were steadily in the 5-7 per day range (and looked like good news at the time) and have since been substantially increased. The same could very well happen to that October 1 figure.

Ditto for hospitalizations. The seven-day average for new admissions is now well below 30 per day, but it has been in the mid-30 range for some weeks. As late-arriving data fills in the prior dates, however, you can see that those numbers were premature and the counts rose.

In mid-August I noted the daily deaths had dropped to five per day or so. Today’s bar chart shows the seven-day average for that same August date now at 15. Put little credence in the current reported average of three per day. The VDH website does not instill confidence, perhaps because those filing the reports are slow. It does seem no Labor Day spike appeared.

Assuming all states have some of the same data challenges, Virginia is right in the middle of the pack when comparing states. Use this spreadsheet on RealClearPolitics.com and sort it by deaths per million and a wide range among the states remains. Before the rash of back data piled in a few weeks ago, Virginia was dropping even lower on the comparison, but has rebounded.

A similar spreadsheet on global statistics shows the United States remains in the top ten for deaths per million, but it seems more likely some countries are counting things differently or simply undercounting. Among our European allies, tiny Belgium and more populous Spain have had worse results than us so far, with the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Sweden doing just a bit better than the U.S.

For epidemiology doctorates in the future, a fascinating study will be comparing how well Africa has done compared to South America, given both have now been through winter and their natural flu seasons.

This is a highly-infectious disease, the mitigation strategies are imperfect and unpopular, and it continues to spread. Death from COVID-19 remains heavily correlated with older age and pre-existing comorbidities. About half of Virginia’s deaths are from outbreaks tied to nursing homes and senior care locations. The failure to control outbreaks has been the big problem.

Virginia continues to report zero deaths from the known outbreaks at its colleges and universities, public and private schools, and day care operations. That is more fodder for future research. Only the college-age cohort is catching this in substantial numbers.

The Center for Disease Control’s death tracking website is also still reporting that 92% of deaths are among people 55 or older. Since the pandemic tracking began, 41,149 Americans under 25 have died of all causes, with only 441 blamed totally or in part on COVID-19. The 99% under 25 who died from other causes are never mentioned, unless the car crash or criminal activity makes news.

Among infants under one, 22 have died of or with COVID-19 against 12,070 deaths from something else. That first year has always been high risk.

The CDC’s excess deaths tracker shows a fading impact at this point, but as previously noted it clearly demonstrates this is not just another round of bad seasonal flu and is still not over after six months. The previous flu epidemic was six weeks of (substantially fewer) excess deaths in the winter of 2017-18.  The CDC cannot, however, separate “excess” deaths related to COVID-19 from deaths caused by the resulting lockdowns, widespread panic, and despair.

Missing that cruise has caused us no despair, but I bet the cruise line employees are having a truly bad year.

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19 responses to “VA COVID Deaths Drop Again. Distrust the Data.

  1. Steve,
    You said that Covid is “highly infectious”. Is it infectious or contagious, or perhaps both?
    If both, am I correct that it’s usually described as more contagious than infectious?

  2. Just to prove your point, Steve, this is on the VDH dashboard today.

    “The case count reported on Thursday, October 8, includes 689 cases that should have been reported on Wednesday, October 7, but were not because of a surveillance system reporting issue. A reminder: cases are not reported on the day the patient became ill, but on the day they have been classified as meeting the case definition for COVID-19. In order to observe the spread of illness most effectively, please review the charts that show cases by date of symptom onset.”

    So instead of 509 and 1844 for the Tuesday 10/6 and Wednesday 10/7 counts as of 5 PM each day, they should be 1198 and 1155.

    That makes the previous two days look suspiciously low at 687 10/4 and 625 10/5.

  3. Steve makes an interesting point about comparing COVID cases and deaths in the U.S. to cases and deaths in other countries. Contrary to the claims we often hear, our performance differs little from other democratic/market-based countries like Britain, France, Spain, and others. Also, does anyone seriously believe we’re doing a worse job than developing countries like Brazil and South Africa?

    One reason that our numbers are higher than for many other countries is that we are better at collecting and reporting the data. (Does Brazil’s data capture every COVID-related death in its favelas? Does South African data capture every death in its shantytowns?) Another reason may be that we have different definitions of what constitutes a COVID-19 death. If someone dies with COVID, even if they’re in stage four cancer, they are counted as a COVID death. Do all countries count COVID deaths the same way? I doubt it.

    Dig beneath the superficial numbers, and never, never, NEVER trust agenda-driven media to tell the story honestly.

    • …four weeks before an election. Last night’s moderator started with the premise that the US is doing worse than just about everybody else, which I reject. Likewise I reject claims we are doing better.

      • There are lies, damn lies and then the American main stream media. Man those jackasses have an agenda. And yes, Larry, Fox also has an agenda.

        You never hear any discussion of how COVID-19 deaths are counted country-by-country.

        And what about the horror stories around in-person K-12 teaching. Where are the outbreaks among the Virginia jurisdictions which elected to go back to in-person teaching full time? Where are the outbreaks in the schools of Virginia jurisdictions that elected to go back to school in-person two or three days a week? Where are the piles of dead grandparents predicted by the fear porn advocates?

      • Glad you reject it. I’m sure the 211,000 agree.

        • Regurgitating a number like that is no better than Pro-Life advocates regurgitating the number of abortions conducted since Roe v Wade.

          It’s a lazy argument and nothing more than trollish behavior.

          • Fine. You pick the number. I trust your judgement.

          • There is not reason to pick numbers, you’re just using those 200k+ lives as a talking point just like the Pro-Life crowd. You in reality could give a f’ about them.

  4. Here is a classic example of the failure of the main stream media. A report from RT (a dubious news source) claiming that elementary students at a Fairfax County public school are being taught that traits like “objectivity” constitute racism and white supremacy. I comes with a screen shot of materials supposedly presented by the teacher.

    Now, I don’t put a lot of stock in RT. However, when I search for a more “reputable” news source to confirm or deny this accusation I find nothing. Is that because this is “fake news” or is it because the main stream news media refuses to criticize (or even report on) such matters? Shouldn’t supposed news agencies call the teacher – Yolanda Corado Cendejas – and ask her about this material? Of course, that would be objective and we all know that’s a form of racism and white supremacy.

    https://www.rt.com/usa/502845-racism-white-supremacy-elementary-school/

  5. The “filling in” of the COVID data with back data is frustrating, but understandable. It is a common problem. VDH is dependent on third-party sources (hospitals, doctors) for much of its data. If those reports of data are tardy, then the VDH data will need to be periodically updated.

    Steve’s discussion brought back memories of my experience with this problem. This was in relation to offender forecasting. The Department of Corrections was largely dependent on the Compensation Board for data on new state responsible offenders admitted to jails. The Comp Board, in turn, was dependent on the data entered by jails. The forecasters in our group had to account for a 8-10 month lag in the data.

    • It would be nice to look at those reports and feel encouraged, but I just cannot. It would be a Lucy and the football moment. It would also be nice if our Fearless Leaders would come out and say, hooray, the data are improving, what you are doing is working and keep it up. Fascinating how little understanding there is that the positive reinforcement is actually the more powerful….

      • I prefer the VHHA dashboard as a measure of progress, at least they provide the number who have been discharged and presumably recovered.

        • VHHA reports are based on hospital reports of admissions and COVID-19 testing status (confirmed and pending), along with utilization info on ICU, ventilators and bed capacity.

          VDH’s hospitalization numbers are not to track how many individuals needed hospitalization, but to track at what point in the case they learned about it.VDH does not go back and update for hospital admissions after they record a case in their system.

          So while VDH didn’t learn about 11,447 cases until the person entered a hospital, VHHA reported 19,299 hospitalizations (18,336 discharged and 963 currently hospitalized).

  6. Well, now its official. The World Health Organization (WHO) just reversed itself on Covid-19 lock-downs, admitting that Professor Gupta of Oxford University and Sweden were right from the start. Lock-downs are most always wrong, causing far more harm than good, and should not be used to prevent spread of Covid-19 (save in very short term for a very narrow set of circumstances). For details see article linked in below, including video interview of WHO official therein:

    https://thefederalist.com/2020/10/12/lockdown-reversal-shows-that-when-science-conflicts-with-politics-who-chooses-politics/

  7. From: After The Great Barrington Declaration, No One Can Honestly Say ‘Science’ Demands Lockdowns – While left-leaning media and pundits claim that evidence and science guide their decisions, the Great Barrington Declaration proves their ignorance and dishonesty, by Helen Raleigh.

    “… Last week, the three leading scientists drafted and posted The Great Barrington Declaration, a public petition calling for an end to the lockdowns and returning life to its pre-pandemic norm, except for the most vulnerable segments of our population.

    The authors of the Great Barrington Declaration said they were driven by their “grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies.” Since its release, more than 13,000 infectious disease epidemiologists, public health scientists, medical practitioners, and more than 180,000 members of the general public, have signed the petition.
    The Growing Push-back

    There are three reasons the Great Barrington Declaration has generated so much enthusiastic support in such a short period.

    First, three authors of the statement are among the leading epidemiologists in the world: Dr. Martin Kulldorff, a professor of medicine at Harvard University, a biostatistician, and epidemiologist; Dr. Sunetra Gupta, a professor at Oxford University, an epidemiologist with expertise in immunology, vaccine development, and mathematical modeling of infectious diseases; and Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a professor at Stanford University Medical School, a physician, epidemiologist, health economist, and public health policy expert focusing on infectious diseases and vulnerable populations.

    Second, the Great Barrington Declaration reaffirmed what some experts and the general public have been saying for months about the downsides of lockdown policies. Back in June, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a strongly worded statement, urging states to reopen schools and having children physically present in schools. It cites “mountains of evidence” that the transmission rate, infection rate, and death rate of COVID-19 among young children have been extremely low.

    In addition, the long term harm of remote and disrupted learning and keeping children and adolescents from physically being in schools is severe, including learning loss, increasing physical or sexual abuse, and other emotional and health issues such as depression and suicidal ideation. All demographics of children and adolescents have suffered, but those from low-income families and those with learning disabilities have suffered the worst.

    Regardless, this week alone, New York City shut down more than 300 public and private schools in nine ZIP codes, citing a surge of COVID-19 cases in those areas, while ignoring recommendations from the AAP and others. Such massive school shutdowns came after two last-minute delays in reopening the city’s schools in September due to pressure from the powerful teachers’ union.

    Parents are rightfully frustrated …”

    For more see:
    https://thefederalist.com/2020/10/12/after-the-great-barrington-declaration-no-one-can-honestly-say-science-demands-lockdowns/

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