Wuhan Roulette

I used to live in the greatest country in the world. If there was a problem, we’d solve it. We’d put our shoulders to the wheel and our nose to the grindstone, and in the morning we’d be so sore we wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. But somebody else would, and that was how we got things done.

But how about the plague. You may have heard of it. It feels like you’re breathing at altitude till there’s no air left.

The plague’s everywhere. In the papers. On teevee. In the hospitals. Chinese hospitals and Viennese hospitals, and down in some of those Charleston, South Carolina, hospitals. And apparently it’s killing people. Some people. Not everybody. Not you. Not yet.

So apparently the virus is widespread. And deadly.

But I wonder how widespread it really is. I wonder why we’re not interested in finding out.

It wouldn’t be hard to estimate. If you have a representative sample.

A statistician/social scientist could make a guess. Right now we’re extrapolating from the people we’ve tested. The people who’ve been tested, self-reported. They thought they had symptoms, so they turned themselves into the appropriate health authorities to find out. They self-selected. That queers the deal. We need a random sample. The bigger the sample, the better the results, but if we tested only ten people right now, we’d have a better idea of how widespread the infection is.



Of course those results would be insignificant. The bigger the sample, the more reliable the result. So why don’t we have general, widespread, random sampling? Wouldn’t you think that the first step to assessing public policy would be to understand the magnitude of the problem?

Why are we reopening the economy if we don’t even know what the infection rate is?

It’s like playing darts in a dark room with an unknown quantity of venomous vipers.

Why aren’t we doing more testing? Why isn’t every person in America, or at least a relevant sample, being tested? We can’t do that? We don’t have the resources?

We’ve got the resources. Resources is money. If we’re not the richest country in the world, we’re right up there. If we’re not doing testing, it’s because we either don’t have our heads screwed on straight, or the government is afraid of what they’ll find.

Either it’s worse than we could imagine, and the Governor is afraid of what that means to the State’s budget, or it’s better than they’re letting on, and the whole thing was a joke.

Or, more likely, the politicians aren’t worried about the facts, they’re only worried about the polls.

The first thing that needs to be done is to assess the situation. That means testing. If not comprehensive testing, then at least a scientific sample. Otherwise, we don’t even know how many bullets are in the gun.

The cylinders could be fully loaded, or the gun could be empty.


  1. Yeah, but you’re talking from the stand point of a person who believes in science, Rich! You’re overlooking the reality that repulsivicans control the government, and they refuse to apply anything that might resemble logic or even rational thought to this hot mess! And, fwiw, WE are not the richest country in the world any more. Some very, very few of us do indeed possess a great portion of the world’s wealth, but they’re also repulsivicans. You know. “I got mine. Fuck you!” That kind of repulsiveness.

  2. Kind of a yes to all of this. This public health situation is completely politicized, to the point where it can no longer be identified as a “crisis”. And yes to the commenteer before me, you and I believe in science and statistics, and with a chuckle I’ll say the US is no longer the richest or “best” country in the world. We (they) just want our (their) economy (stock market) back, huff emoji.

  3. You are sadly behind on the news. The information you’re hoping for has already been obtained by a different form of testing, done by Stanford U. Med School, serum antibody testing, done on a significant sample, 1000 people on Santa Clara county, more than a month ago. This test detects the presence of the virus antibody, indicating that the person was infected at some point, recovered or sick. They estimated that the number of infected people is actually 50 to 85 times what the current testing is showing. So extrapolating conservatively from that, if Texas has 41k cases right now, there are in reality 2.6 million infected people out there. You’re right, the officials have NO real idea how widespread the disease is by their testing methods. What it means is two things with regard to your thoughts. One, if they test more they’ll just get more positive results. Like an ocean full of fish, the more you fish, the more you catch. Reason to stay closed then? No. Because Two, if the number is really in the millions, it means (as the Stanford scientists concluded) the virus is not as “deadly” as is publicized, probably no moreso than the flu, maybe even less.
    Oh, and their study indicated that the virus was here long before it became “a thing,” like since late last November.

    1. You are sadly misinformed.

      From Sciencemag.org:

      A California serology study of 3300 people released last week in a preprint also drew strong criticisms. The lead authors of the study, Jay Bhattacharya and Eran Bendavid, who study health policy at Stanford University, worked with colleagues to recruit the residents of Santa Clara county through ads on Facebook. Fifty antibody tests were positive—about 1.5%. But after adjusting the statistics to better reflect the county’s demographics, the researchers concluded that between 2.49% and 4.16% of the county’s residents had likely been infected. That suggests, they say, that the real number of infections was as many as 80,000. That’s more than 50 times as many as viral gene tests had confirmed and implies a low fatality rate—a reason to consider whether strict lockdowns are worthwhile, argue Bendavid and co-author John Ioannidis, who studies public health at Stanford.

      . . .

      Recruiting through Facebook likely attracted people with COVID-19–like symptoms who wanted to be tested, boosting the apparent positive rate. Because the absolute numbers of positive tests were so small, false positives may have been nearly as common as real infections. The study also had relatively few participants from low-income and minority populations, meaning the statistical adjustments the researchers made could be way off. “I think the authors of the paper owe us all an apology,” wrote Columbia University statistician and political scientist Andrew Gelman in an online commentary. The numbers “were essentially the product of a statistical error.” Bhattacharya says he is preparing an appendix that addresses the criticisms. But, he says, “The argument that the test is not specific enough to detect real positives is deeply flawed.”

      We need comprehensive testing of a statistically significant portion of the population, selected at random.

      Thanks for playing.

  4. By today’s numbers (12 May 2020) the covid deaths in the USA compared to the total population is 0.024% of the population. Is that because of sheltering in place? Last week the percentage of new hospitalizations in New York were 66% from people who were sheltering in place.

    Anecdotally, the Governor of Florida says that he has yet to hear of a case of covid in Florida that was spread outdoors. It strikes me that the approach to curing this is probably backwards.

    We know that the estimates of asymptomatic cases is anywhere from 50% to 95%. Out of 3300 prisoners in 4 states (admittedly not a group representative of the general populace) 96% of those who had contracted the disease were completely asymptomatic.

    The facts seem to indicate that for the great majority of people the corona virus is not dangerous, but for a few it can be deadly. I believe that a better approach is to protect the few and set the many free.

    1. You may be right. But why are we extrapolating from non-representative populations when we have the ability to measure the actual incidence? It seems like a case of willful ignorance.

  5. Absolutely. Random tests and large sample would give a better assessment. From what I understand the virus, SARS-CoV-2, causes the illness Covid-19. Also, I believe there are 2 types of tests for virus and one for antibodies.

    I would think we need 3 tests; each consisting of random testing, large sample, and independent of each other. Samples for each study (test) should be subjected to the same methodology, from collection to processing. Raw data should be published for other scientists’ analyses.

    This pandemic is new; we need to give science a chance to examine and re-examine and make the necessary corrections. If you’re strong and healthy, congrats! But not all of us are and we in the risk groups are being cautious. Remember, Strong and Healthy, you may be asymtomatic and possibly infect others who may or may not get sick (I hear it’s terrible/painful from survivors), some of them will die. Now we also have children with the Kawasaki type illness that is being attributed to the virus.

    We should listen to those scientists/their followers who do not believe of what’s being done, said, etc. about the pandemic. They should be challenged to provide their own tests/prove their logic and discredited when they come up with illogical conclusions. Scientists and nay-sayers have always been paid off by industries that stand to profit. It’s no different now.

    Science corrects itself and changes accordingly.

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