Ask A Genius 551 – Luck, Nature, Coronavirus
May 12, 2020
[Beginning of recorded material]
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Why is there such innumeracy? What are the social and political implications of this?
Rick Rosner: 15 years ago, people talked about the perfect storm based on the movie The Perfect Storm, which is about the confluence of factors coming together to make something particularly horrible. This is where we are roughly May, 2020.
We are having more than 2,000 fatalities a day the past few weeks due to coronavirus. But this is the week that people have become impatient and people are partially opening up 42 states after things were shut down for a while
There is a way to do it based on extensive testing and contact tracing. You test everybody and find those who have been positive and ask who they have been in contact with and ask them to quarantine. That isn’t being done.
Testing remains horrible largely due to Trump’s incompetence, large due to he and his people thinking that if they don’t produce horrible numbers produced by wider testing, then it wouldn’t look so bad for his re-election.
I will confine discussion to much of this happening to people having no grasp of math whatsoever. People who have a decent grasp of mathematics and statistics and understand the relative risks and outworks the spread of the disease and how it works, and that testing is inadequate.
Right now, we are testing just over 1/20th of 1% of the U.S. population per day. We have tested a total of roughly 2% of the entire population. If we could get it up to roughly a third of 1% of the population per day, say a million tests a day, in a month, we could get 10% of the population tested.
That might be enough to open up a lot of offices, open up some communities, once you find out who needs to not be open, who needs to be quarantined, in a community. But the current level of testing does not allow this.
But it does allow the virus to be passed on enough to, at least, maintain a, more or less, steady rate of 2,000 more dead people per day. If that rate holds until the end of the year, we’re looking at more than half of a million Americans dead, which puts it in the top 5 deadliest events in U.S. history up there with the Civil War, the Spanish Flu, and World War Two.
Even if we get lucky, get more testing, and can drop the number of dad per day to just a thousand per day, still by Election Day in early November, we’re at a quarter million U.S. dead, which makes it the fifth deadliest event in U.S. history.
But enough of the country doesn’t even bother to understand the math to the point where they might understand that opening up the country now will add another 100,000 to 150,000 fatalities and will make the rate of the number of cases and the number of deaths rise to the point where we might have to close everything down again.
Or if enough assholes have their way, there is a thing being said, ‘Some people have to die.’ We might rise to 3,000 to 4,000 deaths per day and still have lots of states where people refuse to close things down again.
Jacobsen: Is this related to the amount of illiteracy in the United States as well?
Rosner: The engine for people not bothering to understand are shitty arguments cynically targeted at dumb people by conservative news organizations and conservative news pundits. That we have to open up the country and sure we’re going to take reasonable precautions, but people are going to die.
When that argument is made, there is little discussion as to what reasonable precautions are. When you understand math, you understand the reasonable precautions are having enough testing and contact tracing to understand who still needs to be quarantined and what communities still need to be quarantined.
A month ago, when they talked about what the criteria should be for opening up the country, there were four including 14 days of declining numbers of cases in the area where people are discussing opening. No part of the country has that.
Many of the places opening up have hit their highest numbers in the past couple of days. So, people try to sound reasonable and say, “We’re going to take reasonable precautions,” but the people making those arguments either don’t understand or don’t care about reasonable precautions.
Because if you understand math, then you understand what reasonable criteria are. Unless, we are lucky enough that higher Summer temperatures or different Summer behaviours – more people outside in groups rather than inside in groups, unless that knocks it down; we will continue to have 1,500 to 2,500 U.S. deaths a day.
So within a week, this will be the deadliest year for respiratory diseases since 1969. With two weeks, it will be the worst year for it since the Spanish Flu, where the worst month in U.S. history for communicable disease deaths was October, 1919, when 195,000 people died of the Spanish Flu.
Last month, about 60,000 people died of coronavirus, this month, it looks like it will be about the same. Unless, we are lucky. We could hit 100,000 deaths in a month.
Alright, the end.
[End of recorded material]
American Television Writer
Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Founder, In-Sight Publishing
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