Monday, July 13, 2020

Cases Are Up Because Testing Is Up - But Hospitalizations and Deaths Are Not...,


theatlantic |  For the past few weeks, I have been obsessed with a mystery emerging in the national COVID-19 data.

Cases have soared to terrifying levels since June. Yesterday, the U.S. had 62,000 confirmed cases, an all-time high—and about five times more than the entire continent of Europe. Several U.S. states, including Arizona and Florida, currently have more confirmed cases per capita than any other country in the world.

But average daily deaths are down 75 percent from their April peak. Despite higher death counts on Tuesday and Wednesday, the weekly average has largely plateaued in the past two weeks.

The gap between spiking cases and falling-then-flatlining deaths has become the latest partisan flashpoint. President Donald Trump has brushed off the coronavirus surge by emphasizing the lower death rate, saying that “99 percent of [COVID-19 cases] are totally harmless.” On Tuesday, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned Americans against “[taking] comfort in the lower rate of death” just hours before Trump tweeted triumphantly: “Death Rate from Coronavirus is down tenfold!”

In the fog of pandemic, every statistic tells a story, but no one statistic tells the whole truth. Conservatives seeking refuge in today’s death counts may find, in a matter of days, that deaths are clearly resurging and their narrative is rapidly deteriorating. But liberals, too, should avoid the temptation to flatly reject any remotely positive finding, for fear that it will give succor to the president.

What follows are five possible explanations for the case-death gap. Take them as complementary, rather than competing, theories.

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