Monday, February 17, 2020

COVID-19 Pandemic: The Complacent Are Clueless

The eventual price of substituting magical thinking and survivorship bias for actual evidence will be far higher than the complacent realize.
Here's a sampling of complacent assertions being made about the COVID-19 virus as if they were certitudes:
It's no worse than a bad cold.
It's less deadly than a normal flu.
You can't catch it unless you're in sustained close contact with a carrier.
Carriers are only contagious for 14 days. After that, you're home free.
A vaccine is just around the corner.
The Chinese government has it under control.
Only 2,000 people have died, it's no big deal.
The few cases in other countries are being managed, and it will soon disappear.
The pandemic will fade away by April due to rising temperatures.
China's GDP will only take a 1% hit, and global growth will only drop 0.25%.
Interestingly, there is no large-scale, credible data to support any of these claims. But the complacent are not just falling for false claims being passed off as "facts" rather than what they really are--magical thinking--they're making a much larger error known as Survivorship Bias.
The complacent are focusing on the few who have been tested for the virus, not the millions who haven't been tested.
The complacent are focusing on the accurate tests, not the many carriers who tested negative or the healthy people incorrectly tagged by false positive tests. The complacent are overlooking the fact that multiple tests are needed to confirm and even multiple tests can fail.
The complacent are focusing on the few who went to the hospital to get tested and treated, not the multitudes who did not go to a doctor or hospital (for a variety of reasons).
The complacent are focusing on the few carriers who have been forcibly hauled off by Chinese police and not the many who have wisely hidden away from prying eyes.
The complacent are focusing on the few facilities with test kits, not on the multitude of clinics which do not have test kits.
The complacent are focusing on the few who have been identified as carriers in other nations, not the asymptomatic carriers who have not been identified because 1) they have no symptoms and thus no reason to get tested and 2) they chose not to go to a doctor or hospital despite having symptoms.
In effect, the complacent are focusing solely on the few carriers who are symptomatic and have been tested, not on the much larger number of asymptomatic carriers who have not been tested. The complacent are ignoring the highly contagious nature of COVID-19, and the impossibility of controlling a virus that can be spread by asymptomatic carriers for up to 24 days.
The complacent are assuming 100% of all carriers outside China have come forward and been identified as carriers via tests, when the reality is asymptomatic carriers don't even know they are infected and contagious.
The complacent are assuming every healthcare facility in China has test kits in such abundance that they can test suspected carriers three times to confirm the diagnosis, when the reality is test kits are scarce and one test is not enough to make a reliable assessment. Carriers can test negative, positive and then negative.
The complacent are assuming casual contact isn't enough to catch the virus while a rising tide of cases confirm that brief, casual contact is enough to get the virus.
The complacent are assuming 100% of symptomatic carriers will go to the hospital to be tested and treated, when an unknown but consequential number of symptomatic carriers are fearful of what will be done to them and their families by authorities, so they hide from prying neighbors and authorities.
The complacent are assuming that asking people if they recently visited China or hosted a visitor from China will identify 100% of the asymptomatic carriers, when there is already proof that asymptomatic carriers have caught the virus from others: they did not visit China or have any known contact with anyone who came from China. They caught the virus from an intermediary who didn't even know they were infected.
The complacent are looking at cases and carriers that are known, not the cases and carriers which are unknown. Since asymptomatic carriers can spread the pathogen, the majority of carriers remain unknown. Since not every symptomatic carrier chooses to go to the hospital, many cases remain unknown.
In sum, the complacent are clueless. The eventual price of substituting magical thinking and survivorship bias for actual evidence will be far higher than the complacent realize. Playing games with statistics and high finance will not limit the spread of the virus or limit its profound economic impact.
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