Alexis Madrigal wrote yesterday that, The Official Coronavirus Numbers Are Wrong, and Everyone Knows It:
In total, fewer than 500 people have been tested across the country (although the CDC has stopped reporting that number in its summary of the outbreak). As a result, the current “official” case count inside the United States stood at 43 as of this morning (excluding cruise-ship cases). This number is wrong, yet it’s still constantly printed and quoted. In other contexts, we’d call this what it is: a subtle form of misinformation…
This artificially low number means that for the past few weeks, we’ve seen… only simmering unease domestically… American public-health officials were staring at the writing on the wall that the disease was extremely likely to spread in the U.S., [but] the public-health response was stuck in neutral… Preparing for a sizable outbreak seemed absurd when there were fewer than 20 cases on American soil. Now we know that the disease was already spreading and that it was the U.S. response that was stalled.
Meanwhile, South Korean officials have been testing more than 10,000 people a day, driving up the country’s reported-case count. Same goes for Italy: high test rate, high number of cases. (Now some Italian politicians want to restrict testing.)… That may be cause for reassurance (though not everyone agrees), because the total number of cases is the denominator in the simple equation that yields a fatality rate: deaths divided by cases. More cases with the same number of deaths means that the disease is likely less deadly than the data show…
The point is that every country’s numbers are the result of a specific set of testing and accounting regimes… This is bad. It encourages dangerous behavior such as cutting back testing to bring a country’s numbers down or slow-walking testing to keep a country’s numbers low…
The reality gap between American numbers and American cases is wide. Regular citizens and decision makers cannot rely on only the numbers to make decisions.
So far, with the only testing numbers America has look almost as bad as the testing program in Indonesia. In the last couple days, America seems to have finally ramped up testing (although no officials have wanted to continue keeping track of precisely how much). The very first day that the FDA allowed New York State to begin its own testing (to bypass the CDC’s incompetence), they discovered community spread had started at least a week ago in New York and we don’t know how far it has gotten.
The wife, son, daughter and neighbor of a midtown Manhattan lawyer who has been hospitalized in critical condition since being diagnosed with the novel coronavirus have now also tested positive…. The 20-year-old son …had been symptomatic prior to his father’s hospitalization… The Westchester patient was first diagnosed at a hospital in the city on Monday, the first day the city was able to conduct such rapid testing locally
Similarly, reports out of Washington State show they have discovered that community spread was going on last week there too and we didn’t know because we weren’t testing.
On Tuesday, officials said that two people who died last week in the Seattle area were infected with coronavirus, suggesting that the illness had spread in that region days earlier than health officials had previously known.
That’s in addition to the first case of community spread discovered in California last week (where it had already been spreading for over a week when it was discovered) and the total number of community-spread cases is now at 16 nationwide with 40 more possible cases under investigation according to the CDC data:
Note that once again the CDC has slightly reduced the amount of data they are sharing (shown in the table above) compared with the table they were publishing two days ago.
Since the CDC doesn’t give as much data anymore, the best source of data about the number of cases seems to be produced by Johns Hopkins. They keep it up to date and for example they added ten cases in America just in the past hour. Here is their current map for America. Click on the above link for the interactive version.
They report 138 total confirmed cases in the US (although more will show up rapidly as we really start testing people) and 9 deaths. We are also starting to test people who died before we started testing the general public and more deaths will also appear that happened before testing began like the cases reported today in Seattle. The fact that nobody seems to want to bother keeping track of how much testing we are doing doesn’t seem encouraging.
The CDC’s claims that they have enough test kits to test 75,000 people, but other reports say they will only hope to have them “by the end of this week” and the same CDC report that says they have 75,000 test kits also says that they only have the capacity to “test approximately 350 specimens per day” so the number of test kits is irrelevant to their ability to do testing. The CDC also reports that commercial labs are “working to develop their own tests that hopefully will be available soon” now that they have finally been given permission.
Pence claimed that by the end of the week we would have the capability to test 1.5 million samples, but that is hard to believe given any of the more objective numbers we have been getting such as the CDC’s admission that they only have the capacity for up to 350 specimens per day. Even that seems inflated because, “public health labs say patients typically require at least two samples.” In that case, the CDC would really only have the capacity to test 175 people per day. That is pathetic. No wonder they stopped publishing their quantity of testing.
By comparison, computational biologist Trevor Bedford estimates that there are at least 500 cases in the Seattle area alone because he estimates that, “the virus has been circulating in the northern part of the state for about six weeks.” They need testing now, not just test kits.
It was after Pence took over the public health leadership that they stopped releasing information about how many people have actually been tested. Since then we haven’t had much hard information from the federal government and it is anybody’s guess how well our testing regime is actually going. Instead we get hopes for the number of “kits” that they “expect” could be available “by the end of the week”.
So our public health officials are putting out inflated, misleading numbers about how many people we potentially could test (someday) through a vast ability to produce ill-defined “kits” and meanwhile they have censored the testing information that matters: how many people have we actually tested?