By Alan Viarengo
Fear sells news stories; naturally, an alarming article will capture more attention. More website hits mean more profit through advertising, so we see more propaganda now than in the era of newspapers. This does not mean the reports about Covid-19 (C19) cases are lies and you can go recklessly out and pack into a crowded, closed space with a bunch of strangers. (Don’t do that.)
A recent article by the County Dept. of Public Health showed Gilroy topping the county charts for C19 infection rates. This is alarmism at its finest. The only comparable statistic is (unfortunately) the C19 death rate (per capita, not per known case). As of July 23, Santa Clara County has had 181 (C19) deaths with 1.93 million people (94 per million). Gilroy has had two in 59,000 people (34 per million). And for comparison, Los Angeles County is highest in the state with a rate of 425 per million.
That statistic is not perfect, since some agencies have been caught inflating them, but it’s the best we have.
I made six hypotheses back in March, and all six have proven to be true. One of those stated that shelter-in-place (SIP) would only postpone the inevitable, and was not a sustainable way to minimize deaths from the virus. Due to the fearmongering, opponents of the forced, total shutdown, have been called “selfish” and much worse, even threatening people’s jobs.
Rather than subjectively force closure of businesses that are labeled non-essential, objectively set limits of people indoors together based on square-footage, ventilation, and vertical space, and provide barriers like the plexiglass we see in grocery stores. Since not every state or country is doing the same thing, watching what the others are doing and finding successes will show us the best way through this.
Georgia was the first state to re-open; that was April 24. Right away, the alarmists reported “spikes” in cases and gave doomsday predictions of overcrowded hospitals and deaths. They increased testing with the opening, as most have done, so of course there were more confirmed cases! Georgia’s doomsday did not happen; it is clear that opening “early” did no harm (source: Google, search “Georgia covid death rate”).
There is a lot of variation between countries, even within a continent, just like there are differences between states within the U.S., and counties within a state. In this article, I’m only looking at first-world countries, which all experienced this outbreak by March. The virus has not yet reached some lesser-traveled parts of the world.
Belgium shut down when we did (mid-March); their death rate is 844 per million (as of July 12), the highest in the world of any country with more than one million people. Sweden never closed and has a relatively high rate (544/M), but has also steadily declined in deaths since the mid-April peak experienced by most first-world countries (worldometers.info).
Another one of my hypotheses (again, bragging rights to being six for six) was to watch other first-world countries and imitate the most successful. Japan is the success to follow. The Japanese instructions (not orders or laws) were to avoid “the three C’s”: closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings. Think about it; where have you been shortly before getting a cold or the flu? Close to someone who had it, or touching an infected surface and then touching your face. Japan did not shut down, they have more (proportion of) elderly (group most at risk) than any other country in the world, and a high population density, and yet have a death rate of 8/M.
Population density, of course, correlates with the death rate, as does Vitamin-D deficiency, but there are several more unknowns; those two factors only explain 15 percent of the variation. For example, Denmark, Belgium, and the Netherlands, all neighboring countries, shut down approximately at the same time, and yet have significantly different rates.
Long term, explaining the remaining 85 percent of this variation will provide a solution for the next pandemic. Short term, avoid the three C’s, and deliver groceries to your elderly relatives.
Alan Viarengo, a Gilroy resident, has been a practicing statistician for 30 years.