Trying to make sense of all of this

You sure do hear a lot of numbers flying around with respect to COVID-19.  It is often hard to believe (or understand) what you hear from the media, as well as from the experts. 

What makes this complex is that there are many factors involved, and it is hard to tease out the importance of each as well as the relationship between each (i.e. is one factor mutually exclusive from another?).

What makes the understanding of all of this so important is that decisions, and many of them life altering, will be made from these numbers.

You hear all kinds of probabilities.  From advocates of opening up everything, you might hear “A person has a 99.3% chance of surviving COVID-10, etc.”  Is that accurate?  Is that even good?  How do you put all of this in context?

Currently, many states are trying to decide what restrictions to put on people and businesses.  To do this, we need to understand these numbers, and probability is involved in much of this as it usually is.

As I have mentioned before, and as my website name implies, probability is at the crux of so much of decision making.

So, where to start?  In most places, most businesses are fully able to operate except where there may be too much of a crowd; places like concerts, games, restaurants. 

Let’s start with an assessment of restaurants.  Should restaurants, by and large, be open?

I will leave it to you to answer yourself, based on my interpretation of numbers (which will give a plausible range).

Perhaps the best way to go about this is to compare it to the flu.   The CDC estimates that about 50,000 people die each year from the flu. 

I think there should be no question that some kind of intervention had to happen.  The fact is that there have been viruses that have killed tens of millions in the past.  But with the hindsight of at least observing what has happened the last few months, is it time to allow restaurants to open, and allow them to define the capacity with social distancing required?  Note: I think it too hard to require face masks be worn (obviously, when one is eating, it is not logical).  We could require them to be worn when entering and leaving the building.

To date, about 100,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.  This is with intervention.  But many died before precautions were taken.  In other words, in the last several months, you have had a ‘mixed bag’ of people dying of all ages, of all heath types, and before intervention, as well as after (though we are pretty certain that intervention has helped to some extent).

Again, to focus on restaurants being open for now, what if we allowed people to go with both social distancing and leave off the facemasks? 

The great majority of the 100k that have passed away due to COVID 19 was after intervention was put in place.  But also to be considered is what part of the 100K were people that either already had it, were sickly to begin with, were in a nursing home where the chances were much greater of getting it, etc. compared to people that are in reasonable health that are generally going about their lives?  This is the most important piece of the puzzle in my opinion, and we are essentially missing this information, and although it is possible to piece together this information from various sources, it will still be inexact. 

Let’s approach this way.  Let’s define group A as people that are either in nursing homes, or will not venture out (either due to age or sickness or desire).

Let’s define group B as all other people.  How many are in each group?  Just thinking of people that I know and see, and having ball park ideas of numbers with respect to some demographics, lets’ put it at

100,000,000 people in group A and the rest (about 230,000,000) in group B.

How many of the people in group A were among the 100,000 deaths thus far?  The reason this number is important is because the assumption is that, by and large, only group B will be the ones venturing out to restaurants.

What if it is 50,000 people? 

50,000 people in two months  is 600,000 over a whole year, and further since there are 200,000,000 people in that group, if we extrapolate out to 330,000,000  (the population of the U.S.) to index it to the flu numbers I gave earlier, then we have upwards of 1 million people, and a twenty fold difference between that and the flu.

But, it sure seems silly to assume that it is 50,000.  It is probably closer to between 5 and 20,000, I surmise, and I would guess that it is closer to 5000.

What it if is 20,000?  Then that translates to 400,000 people per year.

What if it is 5000? That translates to 100,000 per year, and just twice the rate of the flu.

Now, this assumes the precautions of social distancing, but not using face masks.

If you were told you could go to your favorite restaurant without a face mask (of course, the social distancing would take care of itself, the restaurant would not put you too close to others), and you had eight times the chance of catching and dying from the flu, many people would still go.

If it were twice the rate, a great majority of people would go. 

In conclusion, these numbers would put the increased chance of catching the flu between twice the rate and eight times the rate. 

There was a Gilligan’s Island episode where Wrong Way Feldman, an aviator who had a horrible sense of direction, tried to describe where the island was, and by what he told authorities, it was somewhere between the Bay of Naples and the Arctic Ocean!  Now, my range leaves a lot to be desired, and I am certain I am not allowing for factors, and they are too numerous to mention here, but I think I have narrowed down a little better than Wrong Way.

These numbers are just meant to mostly be a partial “off the cuff” assessment, a plausible ‘drill down’ of what is going on.

One thing I am pretty sure I am sure of.  I am glad I do not have to make the decisions related to lock downs.

2 thoughts on “Trying to make sense of all of this

  1. Rick May 29, 2020 / 5:40 pm

    Is there a mistake here? Should that be 50,000 for group B? And then knocked down to 20k and 5k?


  2. gqe66 May 29, 2020 / 5:50 pm

    thanks Rick, good catch. I have corrected that.


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