Pay Attention to the Coronavirus Modelling | Citizens Against Government Waste

Pay Attention to the Coronavirus Modelling

The WasteWatcher

Today, March 31, the White House Coronavirus Task Force has promised a discussion on the modelling the government is doing using the data that has been gathered from hospitals and laboratories across the nation.  The more data we get, the better understanding we will have on how the coronavirus spreads, who it effects, and who is most vulnerable.  We should learn more about the influence the modelling had on the president and our governors extending the social distancing to at least April 30.

First, a little background on how we got to where we are with respect to government-ordered social distancing.  Neil Ferguson is a name few people may have heard of, but he is the scientist that produced the coronavirus spread computer model that is largely responsible for England, the United States, and no doubt other countries shutting down businesses, forcing stringent social distancing, and millions of people out of work.  An epidemiologist at the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, Ferguson has been giving advice to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Parliament on what to do to control the virus.

The March 18, 2020 Washington Post discussed how his “chilling scientific paper helped upend U.S. and U.K. coronavirus strategies.”  British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had just finished a press conference on Monday, March 16, when he was presented with an updated model by Ferguson and his colleagues, which predicted “the deadly course of the coronavirus could quickly kill hundreds of thousands in both the United Kingdom and the United States, as surges of sick and dying patients overwhelmed hospitals and critical care units.”  If nothing was done, the model showed as many as 510,000 people could die in Britain and 2.2 million in the U.S., but if more ambitious measures were implemented, that figure could drop to 260,000 and 1.1 million in the U.S.  If the government acted quickly and isolated cases, demanded quarantines, closed schools, enforced social distancing, and do it for 12-18 months, then the number could drop to below 20,000.  These figures sent shock waves through the England and across the world.

Ferguson’s model did not come without criticisms.  The March 23 New Scientist noted days later concerns expressed by University of Edinburgh Global Public Health Professor Devi Sridhar.  She said, “I think it is incredibly surprising that testing and contact tracing is overlooked.  Outbreaks begin and end with testing.”

University of East Anglia Professor of Health Protection Paul Hunter stated, “It comes across as though they have based everything on the Imperial model” and “to be fair, the Imperial people are the some of the best infectious disease modellers on the planet.  But it is risky to put all your eggs in a single basket.”  Hunter called for better communication about what social distancing means and clear advice on what that distance is physically.

The March 25 Washington Examiner discussed in a column, “Is the Coronavirus as Deadly as They Say?,” how two Stanford professors at Stanford University, Drs. Eran Bendavid and Jay Bhattacharya, “published an opinion article Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal, suggesting there is little evidence that the coronavirus would kill millions of people without shelter-in-place orders and quarantines.”  The doctors’ main concerns is the limited data, like the test being used do not catch people who were infected and recovered and second, the number of tests were much too low for a long time, and usually done on people that are very ill. They expressed concern about a universal quarantine, the effect on the economy, and that more data is needed to know the true mortality rate due to the virus. They called for more testing, particularly serology tests that would test for antibodies, which would determine infection rate and who got sick, who recovered, and who had no symptoms at all.

On March 25 New Scientist reported that Neil Ferguson had updated his data to the UK parliamentary committee on science and health that the actual death count would be much lower, unlikely to exceed 20,000 in England, which is still a huge number, but certainly lower than 510 million.  However, it seems his message was misunderstood, leading people to think the virus was not as virulent as originally thought.  The next day, he said in a series of tweets, as recounted in the March 31 Washington Examiner, “I think it would be helpful if I cleared up some confusion that has emerged in recent days.”  He said some have mis-interpreted his remarks and that their latest estimates indicate that the virus may be slightly more transmissible than originally thought.  He said the “lethality estimates remain unchanged” and that “the intensive social distancing and other public health interventions remain the same” because without them, the scale of deaths remains high.

The whipsawing back and forth has caused confusion, fear, an anxiety.  Much of the modeling that was being done was based on numbers in China, Italy and other countries.  The United States is now gathering enough data to create our own models based on the testing being done in our country.  What will help with the numbers is the development of an antibody test, which is underway in places like the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic and UCSF and the San Francisco Vitalant Research Institute.  The antibody test, which is different from the test used to diagnose the disease, will be able to determine if someone had the virus but also showed who had a mild case or had no symptoms and developed an immune response to the virus.

Once these tests are available and approved by the Food and Drug Administration, they will be used to test individuals, hopefully soon in large studies, and will show the true extent of the disease with more precise death rates, if communities have achieved “herd immunity” in the U.S., and assist with what to do when the virus reappears.

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