- Walter Muller
Will the real Covid % in NYC please stand up?
You may not know it by looking at the graph, but with positive Covid infections, we are statistically back where were in April 2020, when we were at the height of the first wave in NYC.
You may not believe it either, as now our fearless leaders remind us daily to go about, live our normal lives, commute, send our kids to school and wear a mask.
Just don't eat in restaurants they say - that'll kill you surely. But doing all that other stuff, that's just fine. So as long as you dont take your kids into a McDonald's to eat some french fries.
Those fries are killer.
And that begs the question, whats changed?
Welp, it's the politicians. Tired of loosing money, municipalities have opted to weigh the risks of your life & your kids lives in a "dollar$-to-life" risk-ratio.
See, you're only worth so much money to society. Because you're worth what you produce. Consequently, as you get older the value of what you produce gradually declines to a point where what you produce is worth-less. (That's the concept behind retirement. Retirement is when you reach an age where the value of what you produce no longer equals the value of your expense to society. So, instead of sending you out in the tundra to die like the Eskimos did to their elders, we put you in a retirement home.)
But I digress.
In the middle of a pandemic, we've revisited that "dollar$-2-life" ratio - and now it's applied to everyone. Politicians looked at their charts, graphs, lines and dots and figured out that its cheaper to sacrifice hordes of people, then it is to sacrifice their economies. After all, the economy is dependent upon people working, paying taxes and spending. And you can't have any that if you're locked down, can you?
What about the risk of death? How can I be good for the economy when I'm dead? Welp, don't worry about that. The actuaries in NY State have thought of everything! Because they tax your assets after you die too. See, even door-nail-dead, you're still helping the economy! Win-win for everybody!
But I digress again. So lets get to that graph you see above. And let me explain to you why we're no better off now, then we were in April 2020.
First, you see that orange line that looks like a mountain?
Yep, that one, centered over about March-June 2020.
Here's what was happening at the top of that mountain, in NYC on April 5th 2020,
"The operational challenge facing our health care system at the apex of the curve is impossible - we are asking our hospitals to do more than ever before with less equipment, supplies and staff, but we don't have any other options," Governor Cuomo said. "We are continuing to operate on a surge and flex system where all our hospitals across the state are working together as one and sharing resources, and we are receiving help from other states, businesses and the federal government to boost our system's capacity, including 1,000 federal personnel to work in our most stressed hospitals. I know how much we are asking of our health care workers on the front line, and I thank them for everything they are doing because they are true heroes."
Finally, the Governor confirmed 8,327 additional cases of novel corona-virus, bringing the statewide total to 122,031 confirmed cases in New York State."
Frightening days those were.
But compare and contrast that with now and the difference is even more frightening.
Because on 4/5, at the apex of the first wave we had 8,327 diagnosed positive cases of Covid in NYC. But on 12/12 we have 11,129 diagnosed positive cases of Covid in NYC.
(Graph: Covid cases surge higher then April 2020)
Now, I'm sure you probably heard the infection rate is lower this time around. But, no, it's not.
Let me explain that.
Testing hides sins in it's statistics. And politicians understand statistics. And we can't afford to look like we're not making progress on the Covid front, so our political leaders do what they did best. They fudge the numbers.
If we used April 5th as our metric of measurement, today we'd have a 59.6% positivity rate in NYC. So by that metric, things have actually gotten worse. But to be fair, it's also because in April, we weren't doing what we're doing now, which is vastly over testing. We were under-testing in April, which is worse but in the other direction.
See, testing influences percentages. So, if you want to look like you've solved the crisis and have your infection percentages decline, you simply test more folx. If you, on the other hand, need your numbers to go up to insinuate a massive crisis, you test less folx.
It may not be right, but this is what happens when politicians control testing.
Besides, it's worth noting that you don't need to over-test to divine good data. Epidemiologists can extract correct predictions from a relatively small data sample (like the data from April 5th) for a population as big as NYC. If an epidemiologist ran testing for NYC/NYS we'd have a very different picture; a political picture in which it would not have been expedient to hustle a book on your Gubernatorial leadership in a crisis, especially when your own leadership failed miserably (consequently, the publishing date is graphed below).
So, since politicians are manipulating testing numbers to fudge the Covid positivity rate in NYC, this begs the next question - how can we correctly interpret the percentage of Covid cases in a city like NYC?
And how can we assure ourselves we are testing the right amount - keeping certain that we are over-testing or under-testing the population?
And those are good questions.
So here's my complex answer:
Quite simply, we need to look at our baseline testing throughout the first wave of the pandemic. And here is our first wave testing in NYC.
(Covid cases, NYC April 2020 to December 2020)
And then we need to look at our average deaths vs our excess deaths. Yes, that's a thing. Every state has this index, in part, to determine if something unusual is occurring in the populous. There's a metric called "excess deaths", which is often used as a way to measure the effects of a sudden event, or in this case, a pandemic.
And here is the graph for our "excess deaths" vs our "expected deaths".
As you can see, our excess (or unexpected) deaths went off the rails between March and early May. But then they came back within normal ranges in mid May.
Why? It's because we finally had our testing capacity up and running. So we could diagnose deaths due to Covid and hence, move those "excess deaths" out of the excess category and file them neatly into whatever category Covid deaths appeared under.
Using those two data sets, we can also determine whether or not we are over-testing the population in NYC for Covid.
Welp, we are. But that probably doesn't come as a surprise to you, especially if you've been watching the news.
Covid cases are on the rise in NYC, and our hospitals are filling up with Covid patients (from 1,500 to 6,000 Covid admissions in a few weeks), while our Gov'nor reports that our Covid infection rate in NYC has simultaneously dropped.
Using the two above graphs, we can see a dip in excess deaths and a dip in Covid cases, between June and early August. Based on that data, we can make the following assumption - that testing for Covid between June and early August was accurate enough to be a predictor of actual cases.
But if you look at Covid testing past the first week in August, testing went through the roof, while excess deaths stayed stable. Hence, this is where the great testing-disconnect begins. After August, testing bears no resemblance to reality. Below, the shaded gray graph shows actual testing volume, while the red graph shows actual Covid cases.
(Grey graph - Covid daily testing volume / Red graph - actual daily diagnosed Covid cases)
And as you can see, one bears no correlation to the other. But there is a reason for over-testing. As our number started to creep to 1 and eventually 1+, our politicians did the only thing they could do during a pandemic to make it look like they were doing something to control the pandemic: they made the Covid percentage drop by fortuitously over-testing the population. And this, folx, is how we have our hospitals filling up, while our Covid percentage drops.
So now on to the real NYC infection rate.
If we use June to August for our average daily testing number, we can divine a current infection rate. Since our average daily testing between June and early August was about 70,000 - (which is important, as those months were where data showed the highest correlation) and we divide that number into the current daily case rate (I'm using December 12 data, about 12,000 cases), we can divine out daily infection rate.
Using our daily infection rate from December 12, our city wide Covid infection rate would be 15.8% - which is a far cry from what the chuckle-heads in NYS will tell us it is.
Clearly, you can see why it's politically inconvenient to test reasonably or correlate testing with other metrics to produce a valid result. No politician in the world wants to admit a 15.8% infection rate, let alone to have to admit a 10% infection rate. Which is precisely why as the infection numbers increase exponentially, so does the governor order more and more testing.
Covid; the Plus+1 factor - why does it matter?
When Covid arrived on the radar last February, it initially appeared to be a case of rapid community spread. But the reality of what we saw was a was an escalation of community spread, preceded by 3-4 months of seeding of the populous. Because it had been spreading unabated since around late October.
Now, Covid spreads best when it moves at a factor of 1+. That means for every person with Covid, that person infects at least 1 more.
Epidemiologists prefer to see a number of less then 1 because that generally means spread is declining. In contrast, a number of 1+, means the virus is expanding. This triggers alarms in epidemiological circles (for your reference, at the height of the first wave in NYC, that number averaged at about 2-3 cases per person).
As of November 30th, NY had again crossed the 1+ threshold.
Here is a graph of who has crossed the 1+ threshold in the USA, from 11/30:
Also on the 11/30, NY crossed the 1+ threshold again, moving up in rankings in the top 12 worst states for covid infections, coming in at 1.11 infections per person. And the rapid 1+ movement upwards predicts a dark winter ahead.
But there still is a difference between NY and the other less infected states, with droves of people dying daily. The big difference is we already had our first wave, whereas the middle of America is just getting hit now, due to later seeding. Two waves, different beaches.
The reason we are seeing an exponential increase in NYC cases now, is seeding from the first wave. And when we relaxed social distancing measures, community spread of the virus started climbing again because it already had a toehold. Now, a 1+ while politicians tell you everything is OK because the vaccine is here, the worst is over, etc...I'm here to tell you it isn't.
Because now the virus has a plateau in NYC - or a launching pad - it can use to exponentially increase far beyond it's initial reach in last April - whereas it didn't have that advantage last October/November. And if we don't have a truly effective vaccine, we could potentially be looking at the doubling of the rates of spread during the first wave - meaning 4-5 persons infected for every 1 known. It's a scenario that is horrific and I dearly hope it does not play out. Unfortunately though, we can make some predictions from established data:
~ while our current infections are increasing exponentially, we are likely still 1-2 months away from a secondary peak in NYC, if not 3 months.
~ short of a fully functional vaccine, of which there is not, there is no way to mitigate this second wave, with the exception of a full shut down.
~ hospitalizations & deaths will again increase, albeit with numbers being substantially far worse in this current second wave (short of an effective vaccine)
~ hospital capacity must expand to meet case demand. Otherwise total collapse of regional health care systems.
~likely viral peak is 4-5 infections, with secondary begin much higher
~ based on historical data, we are on track to exceed the heights of the pandemic of 1918
If you'd like to see what the future for NYC may hold, I'd suggest you take a look back at the 1918 pandemic in America, or take a look at Italy in 2020. Italy paints a good modern picture of the dark winter ahead for us.
In the mean time, ambulances in my neighborhood again fly down the streets just like in April, with sirens blaring.
But unlike April, now I must go back to work tomorrow to support my family. Because I have no other choice - (unlike the news anchors, newspaper reports, politicians, and other countless office workers that telecommute from home) because my Gov'nor tells me I don't.
So I'll do what workers did in 1918 and what I and the rest of us have to do - gamble with my life each day as I go back to work, rolling the dice & commuting on dirty trains & filth filled subways. In order to pay my bills and support my family.
This while all those politicians who tell me its safe to go back to work, refuse to leave their home offices for fear of catching Covid. No face to face work for them! Because meeting face to face or commuting with other people is far too dangerous for them.
But their good news is, it's not too risky for you and I to go back for face to face work! After all, someone has to get this economy going. And it sure as hell ain't gonna be them.
And they know working stiffs like you and me are the ones to do it. And that's OK with them. Because they're comfortable with the sacrifices you and I must make for their glory.
But hey, who knows, maybe when our Gov'nor writes a follow up book on Covid, maybe us working class hero's will get a mention in it.
Nah, who am I kidding. He doesn't like to share the limelight with anybody.