Media is obsessed with COVID cases, but death rate is what is important
John Ziegler is senior columnist for Mediaite, from which this column was adapted.
The most dangerous flaw in the modern news media is their now constant vulnerability of becoming deeply invested in a particular narrative at the very start of a large story, and then having the ensuing tunnel vision prevent them from adjusting their reporting as new facts become available.
I am referring here to the news media’s obsession with using “new cases” as by far the most common, and often only, data point for evaluating how the nation is coping with the coronavirus crisis.
For more than two weeks, ever since June 19, when new cases in the United States went back over 30,000 in one day, we have been constantly bombarded with stories of how the virus is “spiking” in “record” numbers in many of the states (like California, Texas, Florida, and Arizona) that were not hit hard in the “first wave.”
Across the country, our number of new cases has indeed exploded to new levels during this time period (though, magically, the media tells us, very little, if any, of this “surge” can be blamed on Black Lives Matter protests/riots), and the news media, both at the national and local levels, have used these statistics to essentially create panic porn. The resulting public anxiety has caused several states to reverse their re-openings and cast a pall over major decisions currently being made all over the country, not just with regard to recreation options, but specifically with respect to the future of schools and major sporting events.
Obviously the “new case” data point is both real and relevant, but it is also now extremely misleading. By incompetently using the same measure of what a “positive” virus test meant in April, to what it now means in July, the news media is in the process of, quite effectively, sabotaging America’s recovery from this crisis.
The data, as well as basic logic, now makes it overwhelmingly obvious that nowhere near as many people who recently tested positive for the virus are going to die as did when this nightmare began. In fact, if the news media was inclined to do so (LMAO), there is potentially a positive story to tell with regard to our current numbers.
While the development has gotten scandalously little news coverage, the daily numbers of deaths with/of Covid has been declining with remarkable consistency for well over two months now.
On April 21, the 7-day rolling average for deaths with/of Covid was 2,225, according to the Worldomoters tracker. As of this writing, it is now down to 511, which, in a country of almost 330 million people, is statistically extremely small (for perspective, this time of year about 1,400 people die in nursing homes every single day).
Presumably, a big part of the reason the media has essentially disregarded what should be very welcome news is that there is a fear/expectation (for some partisans, even at least a hint of hope) that the declining trend on deaths will eventually reverse itself, especially with new cases rising so dramatically. This might be a valid cause for pumping the breaks on reporting positive news, except we now have very strong reasons to radically reevaluate what these “new case” numbers really mean.
Back in March and early April, because testing was far too limited, it meant that if you were getting tested that you at least had a good reason to think that you might have the virus. Consequently, the rate of positive tests was high, and those who were found to have the virus were almost universally “sick,” with a large percentage going to the hospital. A much smaller, but all too high, fraction eventually died.
However, since then several very key circumstances have changed for the better. Testing has now become extraordinarily widespread and almost commonplace, with the positive rate in most of the country shrinking rapidly, and a far greater of those positive tests coming from people who are not actually “sick” (as much of a liar as President Donald Trump is, just because he says something does NOT automatically transform a fact into a myth).
In rational world, for a portion of these people, getting tested as positive can actually be fantastic news. Not only do they now know to be extra careful in staying away from more vulnerable people (which people like them did not know months ago when testing was scarce), but they also presumably have at least some level of immunity going forward.
However, it is not just this important part of the story that the news media has conveniently ignored. Because those testing positive now are far younger, and because our treatments have naturally gotten better, there is a reasonable chance that the daily death rate will not significantly increase due to this spike.
There are those who will understandably say that this conclusion is premature and that in “two weeks” (which is inevitably when all the doomsday predictions are due to finally come true) that will change. While there may be a slight increase soon (one which the media will surely jump all over), the data gives us reason for legitimate optimism that, once again, the most dire predictions will not come close to fruition.
There is of course a significant lag from the time someone tests positive, and when they eventually pass away. But we are now 16 full days from when this surge in new cases began, and during the “first wave” there was no indication that it would take that long for an increase in cases to translate into a rise in deaths.
On April 4, we “spiked” to about 35,000 new cases in a day, and on April 7, hit a new high in daily deaths. On May 6, we reached our highest daily death count, a number which has been steadily diminishing ever since. Theoretically, we should be seeing an increase already.
But there is another reason to believe that a large reversal of the trend may not be coming. Sweden, a country much-maligned in the media because they dared to not lockdown by government mandate, has “new case” and “death” charts which look remarkably similar to ours, and their daily death rate has recently been down to single digits (shhhh… please don’t tell our news media!).
For the record, hospitalizations are an extremely key metric here (I have argued since the beginning that it is THE most important data point), and there is cause for concern on that front in a couple of key states. However, other than ICUs in Arizona and small sections of Texas, contrary to the perception being created in the media, the hospitalization situation is currently nowhere near a crisis, and there are no situations right now where those with the virus are not able to get needed hospital care.
This crisis is obviously real and it is not nearly over yet, but the news media making the situation appear far worse than it actually is might help keep Trump’s fading reelection chances down, but it is greatly harming the country. Not that such a reality matters to the news media anymore.
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