Inconsistent Data and Policies
It seems no one is interested in COVID anymore. Apparently something is happening with some court and I heard there is an election going on. Nevertheless, COVID does not sleep and I’m already planning for my big monthly “what’s up with COVID” newsletter for next week.
In the meantime:
Who Reverses Course On Lockdowns? Sorta
Disney Shorts: Goliath II
In the course of this crisis, I’ve been blessed to discover many fascinating people across the country and across the world. There is a lot of perspective that comes with this because no one really knows a region like the people who live there. I know several people (some of whom read this newsletter) who are occasionally frustrated that my primary way of looking at the data is state-by-state and not metro-by-metro. They can see the important regional distinctions within their own state because they are carefully watching their state and I am not.
The same is true (except moreso) for the international COVID story. The US actually has a really solid COVID reporting hierarchy and, while the CDC is not my go-to source for COVID data, the individual states have mostly managed to do reasonable work tracking this virus. Internationally, the story is… well… very complicated.
One of my internet acquaintances hails from Spain and had this important thread on the reliability of COVID reporting in Spain.
I’ve pulled this out into plain text for readability, but you can follow the thread yourself as well
Our national level data is fake and shouldn't be used for any comparison or conclusion whatsoever we have 17 autonomous communities. when you add up their death data it's often x2 or more what's nationally reported, but most sites use nationally undereported and lagged data.
Is this intentional like some people suspect in Russia? Just not being able to report all the death, like Peru/India? No, absolutely not it's just plain old data management/bureaucratic incompetency like literally neighboring regions ruled by same party will do it right or wrong.
We froze and lowered death total for ~3 weeks to get correct number, removing double counted victims and agreeing on whether we count ‘probable covid' or not. There were zombie jokes, so far only UK has matched our necromancy powers, then one day we rekilled about half of those again.
This is still going on even if no longer national count 1/2 of autonomous community count btw. (We are) closer to 5450 deaths in Spain second wave already close to 20% of the deaths in the first wave.
Note in general mess that few places have *over* reporting of deaths (Aragon by 74) but this is small compared to the overall effect of other regions towards undercounting. I don't expect UK or France to be very different with time, and if they are, it'd be important to figure out why to see if it's something we can manipulate. Expect IFR (infection fatality ratio) to be lower now but not radically lower (0.5-0.7%?). Serology will eventually tell us.
This is incredibly important to know because people are still trying to compare the fairly reliable COVID data from the United States with other countries in which there is still a lot of uncertainty about what the actual numbers are.
Much like the United States, it’s probable that we will need to end up relying on “excess deaths” as a proxy indicator for COVID severity. EuropeMOMO is a go-to for mortality data in Europe, but this data collection takes time and they are still catching up to the beginning of September.
I end up constantly reminding myself that we always end up charting the data we have, assuming that it is a clean representation of reality. I’m trying to keep my bearings about me and remember that data quality is still a very big concern and that a simple one-to-one comparison of the available data isn’t necessarily the right choice.
WHO Reverses On Lockdowns? Sorta.
There was a lot of press this week that the WHO has reversed course on lockdowns and is now anti-lockdown. That seems to be based on this interview with David Nabarro, physician and envoy with the WHO on COVID-19.
Let’s just get this part out of the way: The WHO as a whole has been incredibly disjointed, unorganized, and (in some instances) duplicitous in their dealing with this crisis… especially regarding their relationship with China.
However, let’s also keep in mind that, in general, all reporting is terrible and there are a lot of people at the WHO and there is even disagreement within the organization itself on what the appropriate tactics are for dealing with COVID. This isn’t because they are incompetent or dishonest, but because there are a lot of different positions among health experts on what exactly the most appropriate tactic is.
The position elucidated by Dr Nabarro is that lockdowns are only appropriate when the virus is out of control, medical services are being disrupted due to overwhelming demand, and we need to stop spread as much as possible as quickly as possible. And, in that scenario, the goal of the lockdown should be to regain control of the situation in order to open back up.
From an epidemiological perspective, this is not a new position. This is pretty much what modern disease control recommends. As I pointed out a few months ago, this was the same recommendation that came from the DA Henderson, the man who directed the WHO effort to eradicate smallpox. A view that lockdowns are a last resort is pretty well ingrained into the disease control mainstream. Unfortunately, this is rarely teased out in the discussions of what to do and we’ve come to a very frustating place where lockdowns have become something of a morality football where whatever government manages to institute the harshest policies for the longest amount of time is seen as doing the best job.
I don’t know when that view ends, but it has to end at some point. Unfortunately, many news organizations and political actors took the fact that Texas and Florida decided to ease up on their restrictions as an opportunity to attack those states for seeing cases rise, even as cases rose in states that kept their lockdowns in place. This has created (in my mind) a sense of fear from other states, a sense that they can’t possibly open things up any more because they will then be held responsible for what happens next. This fear has created a governmental paralysis in many states (including my own state of Washington). Lockdown is the only tool in their COVID toolbox. Since they have no other tools that they can see, they just keep hitting things with the lockdown tool regardless of the results.
This is not “following the science”. This is an entirely fear-based reaction. It needs to be overcome.
Disney Shorts: Goliath II
I’m really reaching out of my comfort zone here. I’m pretty well versed in the Disney shorts from the era when Disney was doing a lot of experimentation, the early color era, when Walt Disney was still very much involved with most of the shorts. In contrast, by the 1950’s Walt was obsessed with creating Disneyland and (later) Disney World. He was barely involved in even the feature length films much less the shorts.
As a result, Disney (the company) focused far less on shorts. Fortunately for everyone, Bill Peet was around. Bill Peet and Walt Disney famously did not get along, but Peet was a great animator and an even better storyteller. If you are unfamiliar with Peet’s post-Disney career as a writer of children’s books, please remedy that immediately. Goliath II was one of Peet’s great stories.
Goliath II is about a very little elephant, the son of a very big elephant who wishes that his son was… well… somewhat bigger than a rodent. This short is actually a fairly involved story, much longer than the early Disney shorts (15 minutes). We get a doting protective mother, a dismissive father, a nuisance tiger villain, and an adorable social commentary on finding a place in a community that doesn’t inherently accept you.
On the animation side of things, this was the first Disney short to use the animation technique of xerography, which used a Xerox machine to transfer the drawings to the animation cells. This is reflected clearly in the animation style, which has more in common with Robin Hood than Sleeping Beauty.