(Disclaimer: Although I may adopt a sarcastic, snarky, or lighthearted tone at points, I am in no way arguing that the COVID-19 pandemic should not be taken seriously. We at Punching Bag strongly urge you to take all recommended precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.)
No news station, newspaper, or news website can stop talking about the Coronavirus pandemic. Heck, no person in the nation can stop talking about it! As the numbers keep climbing, the public grows increasingly terrified. With 52,921 confirmed cases in the United States, and 684 deaths (at the time I write this—by the time you read this, who knows?), I can see why!
But what do these numbers really tell us? Is the situation truly as dire as it seems? Let’s take a look at the numbers, considering a few things I have yet to see addressed in the mainstream media.
Let’s start with a city of 10,000 people. I’ll call this city “Realville.” Let’s say that of those 10,000 people, 100 have tested positive for COVID-19. These 100 unfortunate folks are what the media refers to as “confirmed cases.” Of course, the key word in that sentence is confirmed.
Why is “confirmed” the keyword? Because, like every other city, town, or village in our nation, Realville does not have an unlimited quantity of COVID-19 tests just lying around in a broom closet somewhere. No. They have a very limited number of tests at their disposal, and they have no idea when they’re getting more. So Realville isn’t testing everybody and their brother who’s got a bit of a cough. The only people in Realville who are getting a COVID-19 test are those who are both symptomatic and either (a) already seriously ill, (b) part of a vulnerable population, such as the elderly or the immunocompromised—who are highly likely to become seriously ill, or (c) have shown up in the ER with all the right symptoms.
In short, Realville is only even testing people who are majorly sick. This is true all across the country, from the smallest town to the biggest city. You can’t just waltz into any old Urgent Care center and grab a COVID-19 test on the fly as if it’s strep throat. So who isn’t getting the test? A lot of people who do, in fact, have the dreaded COVID-19, but are at home with a bottle of cough syrup, some tissues, and—if they’re very lucky—some homemade chicken noodle soup.
Oh, and we also aren’t testing those who are carrying the virus in their bodies but are experiencing absolutely no symptoms. For the sake of argument, let’s say that for each denizen of Realville who has gotten their sweaty, feverish hands on a COVID-19 test that came back positive, there are two more sitting on their couches thinking they’ve got a cold.
“Gee,” Couch-COVID-Guy is thinking, “being sick stinks, but at least I don’t have COVID-19! That would be terrible!” He does not suspect a thing. In all likelihood, he will never know. Like many infected persons, Couch-COVID-Guy will have mild-to-moderate flu-like symptoms for a few days. Then he will be fine.
Let’s also say that for each Realville confirmed case, there are two more people walking around who are entirely oblivious to the fact that they have any infection at all, because they will never feel so much as a scratchy throat. These are the asymptomatic carriers the media talks about. (Note: It is estimated that as many as 1 in 6 may be carrying the virus. Asymptomatic carriers can still pass on the virus to others, who may become sick, which is why it’s a good idea to use extreme caution if you’re going to have contact with vulnerable people. Read: Don’t sneeze on Grandma.)
Returning to Realville, this brings the total number of infected persons to 500. Remember, only 100 of these 500 are confirmed cases. The 100 confirmed COVID-19 patients are quite sick or likely to become so. The other 400 are fine.
Although this is much higher than the actual fatality rate (which is well under 1% globally), let’s say that of the 100 confirmed COVID-19 patients, ten have died. (Perhaps Realville has an unusually high percentage of senior citizens, or HIV patients, or something—roll with me here, it’s a hypothetical.) Further, let’s say fifty of those 100 confirmed cases are hospitalized.
Exclusively considering the number of confirmed cases, as the mainstream media insists on doing, COVID-19 appears rather deadly. After all, one out of every ten people who have contracted COVID-19 lost their battle to the virus! Fully half the people with COVID-19 needed hospitalization! Realville is doomed!
Except, we know that isn’t the case. Actually, only one in ten Realville-dwellers with the virus ended up hospitalized. Only one in fifty (again, this is much, much higher than the actual COVID-19 fatality rate—I’m beginning to think that something seriously strange is going on in Realville…) COVID-19 patients have died. It is well worth noting here that the vast majority of COVID-19 fatalities were people who were either elderly or immunocompromised.
So perhaps, before we all panic, let’s take a step back and think things all the way through. Next time you see a frightening statistic, question it. That 52,921 confirmed cases in the U.S. I mentioned at the beginning of the article was pretty scary, right? Now consider that there are roughly 327,000,000 people in this country. Not quite as scary now, right?
Isn’t lying with numbers fun?