By Edward Achorn
Earlier this summer, I posted charts showing dramatic declines in deaths from COVID-19, according to data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I hoped that people would feel less panicked if they could see the big picture — something most of the news media were not showing.
“What’s wrong with you?” asked some of my Facebook friends.
They argued that it was the Sunbelt’s turn to experience the crowded hospitals and death spikes that New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts had endured in April. They warned me that events would soon render my piece embarrassingly obsolete.
My friends argued that Southern governors had brought this on themselves by “opening too soon” and failing to enforce face mask dictates. They said it was wrong of me to do anything to lessen the panic, because I was making my fellow citizens less vigilant, and thus making matters worse.
I posited that the facts are our allies in this fight, and that reason is more helpful in a crisis than panic.
It turned out that there was a slight uptick in deaths in July — but nothing like the high spike of April. Contrary to the media hysteria, it does not appear that a “second wave” as bad as the first will pan out.
I can understand the public’s fears, though. The media have been fanning the flames by uncritically posting new “record” counts of deaths. “More than a thousand deaths in a day!” we are told.
My friends are terrified. But I urge them not to feel too fearful.
Those are not all new deaths. The government has given hospitals financial incentives to attribute as many deaths as possible to COVID-19. They have thus gone back and reviewed old deaths to reassign them to COVID-19.
The COVID-19 Tracking Project, widely used by the media, dumps all those deaths into the day they are reported. Hence, more than a thousand! But the deaths, in truth, occurred days, weeks and months earlier.
The scary new daily totals feed the media’s panic narrative. But when they are parceled out to when they occurred, they paint a different picture (see above). They show the national trend lines hold — of a big spike in April and a steep decline since, with a small uptick in July. That suggests COVID-19 is becoming less deadly.
In a recent article, Andrew Bostom, M.D., a Brown associate professor of medicine, internist, and epidemiologist who produced the chart above, explored how statistics have been manipulated in Florida.
The daily death counts for Florida paint a terrifying picture. But when they are placed when they occurred, they display something different altogether: that the state has passed the peak and deaths are receding rapidly. That is far more comforting.
This chart, based on intrepid work by Florida journalist Jennifer Cabrera, shows how it works. The orange lines are the daily death dumps. The blue lines are when the deaths, in truth, occurred. See the difference?
Dr. Bostom maintains that the media’s distorted use of data is a disservice to the public.
It “gins up COVID-19 hysteria, even as the outbreak’s mortality is past its apex in a ‘hot spot’ like Florida,” he writes.
Panic sells. It means clicks on internet links that produce advertising revenue. It also creates an impression that America is in chaos, which could help turn out the incumbent president, a top goal of media outlets that have become activists for the Democratic Party.
But I think reason and facts are useful in making our society work better. I urge readers to set aside the politics and look more critically at the way some of this COVID-19 news is being reported.
(Read Edward Achorn’s books about American history.)