Between the sheer magnitude of the misreporting going on in the major news media, and the monumental incompetence and feckless positioning to take advantage or avoid blame for the COVID19 crisis among US political leaders, it’s hard to know where to start. The second biggest thing that bugs me is the assumption that people are stupid and have to be manipulated. The biggest thing that bugs me is that the people doing the manipulating (media, leaders) think they are knowledgeable and smart enough to know what is best and that manipulation is required. So for today a “short” post pointing out one small element of the madness.
Imperial College, London, released a report on modeling the potential impact of the virus. It’s an interesting study, properly interpreted it’s good, valuable work. But that’s certainly not what is happening. One example is the New York Times article on the study. They plucked out a graphic showing 2.2 Million US deaths, labeling it in the fine print as showing the number of deaths “in the absence of actions.” What they don’t say is what the report itself said: that this scenario was unlikely. That upper bound assumes that people would do nothing even as others around them fell sick. Worse, this scenario is now in fact impossible: actions already taken will have a profound reduction on this total, even if the assumptions in the model (which are very bad case assumptions) are correct. There are also reasons to believe that many of the assumptions in the paper are extreme, based on data that has become available later – this is a rapidly moving situation, and it is hard for peer reviewed research to keep up. But it is valuable document showing the potential impact of various mitigation actions.
As I have ranted previously, there are always a huge range and variation of scenarios for any disaster. Which scenario you use for a given purpose varies depending on the application. There is no “right” number. But there are a lot of wrong numbers, especially for what is most likely to happen. I think most people understand that you sometimes have to plan and take action based on what could happen, even if though what is likely to happen is something more benign. The problem is, by always emphasizing what might happen (much less the most extreme version of that) just causes a lot of fear, anxiety, and panic. I just don’t buy it you have to scare people: most people, most of the time, will do the right thing if you just take the time to explain it to them.
As I have been saying all along, your best bet as to what to do is still the CDC COVID-19 web site. For other preparation tips, try the DHS/FEMA site. By now you should know the drill: wash your hands, don’t touch your face, social distancing as needed, stay home if you don’t feel good. Help those around you as needed. And try not to stress too much over the numbers, the drama, and the politics. Most of the numbers (and the rhetorical extremes) are bogus anyway.