Numbers

VDH of course: “California governor Gavin Newsom has assured his state that over half of the population — or, in his words, 56 percent — will soon be infected. That is, more than 25 million coronavirus cases are on the horizon, which, at the virus’s current fatality rate of 1–2 percent (the ratio of deaths to known positive cases), would mean that the state should anticipate 250,000–500,000 dead Californians in the near future. Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti predicted that this week Los Angeles would be short of all sorts of medical supplies as the epidemic killed many hundreds, as is the case in New York City.

It’s been well over two months since the first certified coronavirus case in the United States, so one might expect to see early symptoms of the apocalypse recently forecast by Governor Newsom. Yet a number of California’s top doctors, epidemiologists, statisticians, and biophysicists — including Stanford’s John Ioannides, Michael Levitt, Eran Bendavid, and Jay Bhattacharya — have expressed some skepticism about the bleak models predicting that we are on the verge of a statewide or even national lethal pandemic of biblical proportions.

The skeptics may be right. As of this moment, California’s cumulative fatalities attributed to coronavirus are somewhere over 140 deaths, in a state of 40 million. That toll is a relatively confirmable numerator (though coronavirus is not always the sole cause of death), as opposed to the widely unreliable denominator of caseloads (currently about 6,300 in the state) that are judged to be only a fraction of the population that has been tested. The Iceland study, for example, suggests that half of those who are infected show no symptoms. Currently, even with fluctuating statistics, California is suffering roughly about one death to the virus for every 250,000–300,000 of its residents.

The rate certainly will go up each hour, and no doubt in geometric fashion, as the virus spreads. Yet we should remember that California loses about 270,000 lives to all causes every year — meaning, on any given day, around 740 Californians die. So far there is no published clear evidence that in January, February, and March more Americans have died from pneumonia-related diseases than in an average year. Note too that not all deaths attributed to coronavirus are the work of COVID-19 alone; they are often accompanied by advanced age and serious chronic conditions that may have soon led to death without any accompanying viral infection.

In contrast, as of Monday morning, New York State, with about half of California’s population, has about eight to nine times the number of deaths, and 20 times the per capita rate, at 60 deaths per million residents. In fact, California has a much lower per capita death rate than many of the nation’s largest states; for that matter, its per capita death rate is similar to that of nations that so far have mysteriously escaped the virus’s modeled wrath. Currently, California has lost fewer than 4 people per million, roughly between South Korea’s 3 deaths per million and Germany’s 5, which are both being studied as outliers. Of course, statistics change hourly, but for now California’s data remain mysteries.”

None of these numbers make sense. Something very peculiar is going on.

Bonus fun: from a regular guy

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