Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Data Versus Reality

Today in Wisconsin, as in many places in America, we are still under lockdown (we call it "Safer at Home"). In fact, our Governor, Tony Evers, just extended the lockdown until the end of May. Since I am in the at-risk group, being older with an underlying condition, I am thinking that caution moving forward will help me stay well. I am also retired, so, as long as the stock market doesn't completely bottom out, my savings will carry me through.

I know that there are many who would rather get back to work sooner, so they can start making a living again, caring for their kids, paying off their car, and covering all the other monthly bills we all have. This is where we reach the end of what we know and what we think will happen. The data only goes as far as today, tomorrow we have to guess. The good thing is, we can use the past to project into the future; based on what has happened before, from the data, we can extrapolate what would happen if we changed one variable, like say opening up businesses.

Let's take another look at the "flattening the curve" graph. The chart shows a dashed line crossing the center of the diagram which represents health care capacity. This might be the conditions under normal circumstances. Up until now, hospitals do not maintain warehouses of medical supplies, just in case the worst should happen. This is why there has been a herculean effort to ramp up production of protection equipment and build up patient care facilities in sports stadiums. The reality is that the line on the graph representing health care capacity is actually rising over time as suppliers respond to the emergency..

 In my modified graph, the new line for number of cases (green) represents a growth in patients that was at first not completely anticipated. It happened so fast that supplies initially fell behind - this is where the green line passes above the orange line (capacity). For a time, there were not enough beds, ventilators, testing kits, or health care workers to handle the influx of patients.

Eventually, supplies have begun to catch up with demand, and due to social distancing in all its forms, the incidence of new patients has begun to level off. This is where the green line (patients) finally goes under the available health care line (orange). Some of the actual data about the spread of the disease is worse than shown in my mocked up graph.

Source: NPR

The graphs above represent deaths per 100k per day for three states, and each are different. There are many factors that can alter how the disease progresses. One of the major influences, however, is whether or not the response to the virus has been swift and vigilant or delayed and relaxed. This virus is a wild fire and without control it will burn the place down.

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