Misreporting of US Coronavirus spikes

Most New Zealanders look across the Pacific from a currently Covid free country to the US (and many other countries) where the virus seems to continue to grow and spread with horror but gratitude that you are spared many of the issues that come with trying to managing an ongoing pandemic.

It will not come as a shock to many regular readers of this blog to know that the media are misreporting the current COVID-19 spikes in a veritable orgy (pun intended) of what I sometimes refer to as pandemic porn. The states singled out for the most attention and MSM scorn are Republican run states like Florida, Texas, Tennessee and Arizona. Cases have been climbing just as dramatically in California but because Governor Gavin Newsome is a liberal media darling, he cops less criticism than Florida’s Ron de Santis, Texas’ Greg Abbott and Arizona’s Doug Ducey. That is but the first aspect of media misreporting of the virus as it stands right now in the US, the way GOP run states are covered versus Democrat run states. When New York was the world’s hot spot and when it was clear Gov. Mario Cuomo had deliberately sent elderly Covid positive patients from hospitals back to their regular nursing home beds only to infect 10,000’s and eventually to kill over 5,000, Cuomo was still the recipient of glowing media coverage for his informative press conferences simultaneously attempting to blame President Trump for New York’s woes.

To look at the other problems with reporting, we will need to dive deep into the statistics because it is how the media covers what is happening is where the major problems lie. What I am about to report on applies to all the major Republican states that are in the media firing line but I am going to focus on Arizona because Arizona’s Department of Health Services Covid-19 Dashboard has the most comprehensive publicly viewable data in an easy to digest format. I will end this essay with three general virus counting issues that are affecting all states but especially southern states.

The AZDHS Dashboard has 12 buttons of data to view. The media focus on 2 metrics: daily positive tests and ICU Beds with Covid to paint the picture of a runaway virus and are uninterested in diving deeper and understanding the publicly reported statistics. In their reporting they make 4 crucial errors:

A – The reasons for the numbers of positive cases exploding

There are 4 main reasons, but the media are only interested in one of these reasons. I list them in order of their contribution to the number of new positive tests with some backup to these assumptions:

  1. ALL patients who are admitted to hospital are now tested for Covid REGARDLESS OF WHY THEY WERE ADMITTED. This is massively important because, during the Shelter-in-Place orders, all elective surgery was cancelled, and no one could visit hospitals for anything barring life or emergencies so as to keep beds clear for a level of hospitalisations that never eventuated except for a few days in New York City. Once the lockdowns were lifted, hospitals scrambled to reschedule all the deferred elective procedures AND were hit with all kinds of admissions of patients with illnesses unrelated to Covid that people put off attending to due to the previous restrictions on admissions. Because the virus is far more prevalent in the community than the official positive test results show because so many people have the virus but have no symptoms, it is no surprise that a good number of these patients in hospital for something other than Covid are testing positive. A kiwi nurse friend told me that at her large hospital, the rate of asymptomatic infection of the non Covid patients testing positive in hospital is 80%! Look at the button that tracks Confirmed Covid-19 Cases Day by Day and compare it to the data under the button Hospital Covid-19 Specific Metrics and you will find that on average, 2/3rds of the daily positive numbers come from the positive tests arising from this surge of hospital admissions for things OTHER THAN COVID. The media are uninterested in this important nuance.
  2. The huge numbers of young people who took to the streets day after day to protest over the killing of George Floyd and in favour of Black Lives Matter. This is a factor in the increase in numbers of positive tests in a number of cities.
  3. The huge nationwide jump in the amount of testing because of more employers testing en mass, more sites for testing being made available and the fact that free testing is available. It doesn’t take a degree in advanced biochemistry to know that the more you test for something as widespread as a flu pandemic, the more you will find positive cases because you are now capturing a higher percentage of people who are infected but are asymptomatic. Check the numbers in the Laboratory Testing button and numbers have doubled since the time of the lockdown. The tail off in lab numbers just recently is due to more in-hospital tests that are processed in the hospital. This explains the discrepancy between the large daily test figure (as at writing over 17,000 were tested today Saturday July 11 versus the graph which shows only 8,000 on 8 July). The graphs tend to lag by 3 to 4 days as they only show what has been loaded from reports and it takes time for the true daily numbers to be properly populated.
  4. More human interaction due to the lifting of the lockdowns. For sure the greater level of economic activity especially in the sunbelt Republican states that opened up more and earlier has contributed to higher numbers of positive tests but according to the MSM, it is the ONLY or the MAIN reason for the spikes when really it is a more minor contributor.

B – The hospitalisations for Covid are misreported

Another statistic that the media focus on is the ICU Beds in Use under the Hospital Metrics button. But read the description of that carefully, it includes “Positive or SUSPECTED Covid cases” so it covers people who doctors are allowed to add because they SUSPECT they MIGHT have Covid but have not tested positive … yet. In order to understand who has been admitted to hospital strictly for Covid, you have to go to the Hospitalization button and that tells a whole different story: nowhere near the same numbers AND on a downward trend! The media are uninterested in that figure because it doesn’t fit the narrative of the hospital system being swamped with Covid patients because Republican governors irresponsibly lifted their lockdowns.

Another way to track the severity of the caseload right now is to look at the Ventilator Intubation rate – this is a more reliable figure than straight ventilator use as ventilators are used for a variety of respiratory issues in the hospital most notably emergency asthma admissions. Intubation is the method of ventilator use most commonly associated with severe Covid patients. When you look at those statistics, you see a flat line of usage which does NOT confirm any massive spike in dangerous cases at the same time as the numbers of positive cases has spiked – again, all you hear is the sound of crickets from the media on this statistic.

C – ICU usage is not differentiated

If you look at the graph on the page Hospital Bed Usage and Availability under the tab ICU Bed Usage and Availability, the media focus in on the fact that ICU Beds are near 90% capacity and they look at the steady rise in this percentage since the state opened up but this page does not differentiate between an ICU bed used for a Covid patient who is in ICU BECAUSE OF COVID versus a patient in ICU for some other reason but who has tested positive for Covid or patients in ICU who have tested negative for Covid. The raw rise in ICU bed usage is in effect a meaningless statistic without the context that before, only Covid patients were in ICUs and now all kinds of other patients are there as well, context the media are uninterested in providing.

D – The rates are relatively stable despite massive explosion in positive cases

In the case of Florida, it is essentially a flat line of deaths despite the explosion in positive cases. Ditto in California. In Arizona it is a very gentle up-slope. Deaths in AZ are only sporadically reported on the weekend leading to huge reports on Mondays and Tuesdays as the DHS staff catch up which explains the volatility in the daily numbers. Texas has a slightly steeper curve up and Georgia, the state that opened first and faced the earliest hostile media scrutiny, has a sharp downward slope in its rate. Georgia now is no longer talked about because this good news must be hidden.

There are three other ways that the nationwide coronavirus figures are inflated, again things the media rarely mention.

1 – People who die of other ailments but test positive for Covid either during their existing illness or after their death, are counted as a Covid 19 even though they only died WITH Covid not OF Covid. Dr Deborah Birx, the Response Coordinator for the Whitehouse Coronavirus Taskforce, went on the record as stating that the CDC’s official death figures were inflated by 25%. Since she made that comment, the CDC again amended it’s guidelines to allow for clinicians to list a as Covid even without a confirming positive test if they but SUSPECTED that Covid might be involved. If you add this expansive refining of the definition to the last one, it is not a stretch to assume that the US wide coronavirus deaths are exaggerated by a factor of fully one third which would put the national deaths at about 90,000 or slightly above a bad regular influenza season’s death rate in the US.

2 – If you analyze county positive test rates and even specific ZIP code breakdowns of recent positive cases, you will find major spikes in those areas with hospitals near the Mexican border due to increasing numbers of illegal border crossings of Covid infected Mexicans who cannot get help in Mexico’s overloaded health system. This is true for south San Diego CA, Yuma and Nogales, AZ and El Paso, Laredo and Brownsville, TX. This is not a particularly politically correct thing to report hence why little mention is made in MSM reporting.

3 – It is unknown as to how widespread this situation is but because tests are free, people are having multiple tests but results are published by raw testing numbers rather than by individuals so there is no way to determine what percentage of tests figures have some degree of due to multiple testing.

The bottom line is that pandemics play out pretty much the same every time. They continue to spread until they run out of hosts that are not immune or vaccinated. The stated purpose of lockdowns in almost all countries was to flatten the curve so as to not overwhelm hospital systems. Almost all first world countries (with the exception of northern Italy, parts of Spain and for a time in NYC) achieved this goal. So, when you flatten the curve, the total number of cases remains the same, all you have done is distribute the cases over a longer period of time and that is exactly what we are seeing the US right now. Because of what we know about this virus and who is most vulnerable, the growth in positive tests no longer poses the same danger to society as it did back in March when lockdowns began. Positive cases have exploded but deaths and Covid specific ICU admissions have not because:

  • The elderly and infirm are better protected
  • Many jurisdictions now have far better protection protocols for residential care facilities, a source of 50% of deaths
  • Treatments for the virus are more effective due to known successful early interventions leading to shorter hospital stays, fewer intubations as a percentage of cases and thus fewer fatalities
  • profile of those now testing positive has plummeted from predominantly those over 70 to people in their 20’s and 30’s (as you’d expect with bars and restaurants opening and the widespread protests) and in these age groups, a lower percentage even have symptoms, the symptoms are less severe and fewer die or are hospitalized.

Almost all the media are uninterested in reporting those trends nor are they interested in properly analyzing the statistics focusing only on the dramatic increase in positive tests and people in hospital. This is agenda driven journalism with a deadly twist because inducing needless panic over this pandemic has serious economic, health and well-being consequences.

Finally, a word about NZ. Recent highly publicised breaches of the NZ quarantine regime and the explosion of cases in Victoria as a consequence of even more serious breaches there, highlights that the only way NZ can avoid what is happening in the US and other countries is to keep its border hermetically sealed until all the country is vaccinated. Talk of Trans-Tasman and Pacific bubbles to somewhat assist the ailing industry was blown out of the water by the various Health Department mismanagements of the quarantine protocols. It is easy to look at the US with a sense of comfort and unified achievement of the current situation in NZ but it has and will come at an enormous economic cost and, as the residents of Melbourne have found out, if you are wedded to an elimination rather than a containment strategy, a serious breach means another total lockdown re-devastating the economy.

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