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Thomas Gallatin / May 7, 2020

COVID-19 Data Plagued With Reliability Issues

Novelty of the virus and inconsistent record keeping make accurate numbers nearly impossible.

With the news media and politicians so fixated on the China Virus pandemic, what has quickly become apparent is the troubling lack of accurate and consistent data regarding COVID-19. Why has this been the case?

The initial answer is likely the easiest: China’s communist totalitarian regime has been aggressive with its propaganda campaign, spinning the blame for having released this pandemic onto the world away from Beijing’s morally bankrupt government. China’s lies explain much of the initial faulty data on the novel coronavirus. The World Health Organization’s kowtowing to Beijing further exacerbated the problem with data reliability.

However, as the weeks have gone by since the U.S. began its aggressive response to the pandemic in the form of shutdowns and increased testing, the reliability of the data has not gotten much better. U.S. data collection can’t be blamed on China, so what’s the explanation for this?

The most glaring issue has been inconsistent data regarding the total number of people in which COVID-19 was the cause death. There appear to be at least two reasons why this most sobering of data sets has been so inconsistent and difficult to pin down. The first is the lack of any nationwide standards for determining cause of death. This problem existed well prior to the pandemic, though it has been more publicly exposed in recent weeks. Furthermore, to what degree can COVID-19 rightly be blamed as the cause of death? The vast majority of those who have died have been elderly or were suffering from underlying health problems. In other words, was COVID-19 primarily responsible for causing death or was it simply the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back?

The second problem is the novelty of the virus. How many people have died over the last couple months from COVID-related complications but were never tested for the infection? This reality has produced some of the most widely disparate numbers. PowerLine’s Paul Mirengoff observes, “The Washington Post tells us that total U.S. deaths surged early in the pandemic. It cites a study by Yale University that found the U.S. recorded an estimated 15,400 excess deaths in ‘the early weeks of the pandemic’ (‘the weeks leading up to April 4’) nearly twice as many as were publicly attributed to the Wuhan coronavirus at the time. It’s plausible that deaths from the virus were under counted during this period, given the relatively small number of tests administered as of that time.”

The takeaway is that even as more is learned every day regarding this novel coronavirus, the statistical data specifically on death totals often serves as little more than a tool to induce panic in people who would be better served not becoming obsessed with a running death toll of a virus they can do little to control. Follow the safety and social-distancing guidelines and stop fretting over numbers that will only continue to be adjusted and readjusted. And a final thought: If the apparent low death rates from COVID-19 in developing countries like India continues, then that raises some serious question with the numbers in the U.S. and much of the developed world.

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