A statistician looks at COVID-19: relax, that’s an order

William Briggs is a statistician, and he blogs at www.wmbriggs.com. I wish he were better known, but he does go off for pages on Thomas Aquinas when he is not commenting about numbers. This is his latest posting about coronavirus. His take? The fear is exaggerated. The reaction outlandish. I will say no more and let him speak for himself.

  • In Wuhan itself, the City of Doom, some 2,446 souls departed their fleshly existence earlier than expected. Google tells us the city has between 11 and 19 million, depending on whether you count the entire metro area as “the city”.
  • The city had 49,995 cases. The case rate was 0.26% to 0.45%, depending on what China called “the city”. The total dead rate was 0.01% to 0.02%. The case dead rate was 4.9%.
  • People fixate on that last number, forgetting you first have to get the bug before you can die from it. But everybody now seems to believe they’ll get it with certainty. Review Bayes Theorem & Coronavirus!
  • If everywhere will eventually be as bad as Wuhan, then, given 7.7 billion of us now speak with authority on “social distancing” and “flattening the curve”, as if we’ve been using these neologisms from birth, from 20 million to 35 million the world over will get the bug, and from 1 million to 1.7 million will croak from it. (Fifty million died from 1918’s Spanish flu.) ….[clip]
  • CDC estimates that so far this season there have been at least 36 million flu illnesses, 370,000 hospitalizations and 22,000 deaths from flu.

  • That’s in the United States alone, friends. Mostly pneumonia and old folks (God bless them). Worldwide at least ten times that number.
  • If the Wuhan numbers apply globally, losing a million or two of us worldwide is not welcome news, but it’s not panic-level, end-of-the-world, buy-every-roll-of-toilet-paper-in-sight news. It’s wash-your-damned-hands, stay-at-home-if-you’re-sick news.

There is much more that follows at the original site.

I have been reading Twitter a lot these past few days and have decided that, for most commentators, the advice and commentary is as significant as what is heard in the hen coop. Cluck, cluck, cluck.

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Bob G

> CDC estimates that so far this season there have been at least 36 million flu illnesses, 370,000 hospitalizations and 22,000 deaths from flu.

Earlier I posted the following in comments: Let us look at “2019-2020 U.S. Flu Season: Preliminary Burden Estimates” from CDC. CDC estimates that, from October 1, 2019, through February 29, 2020, there have been: 20,000 – 52,000 flu deaths

So the 22,000 number is actually low end of the estimate. CDC also has numbers for previous years. They still seem to be estimating for last two years. I guess it takes than long to put these numbers together.

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