TORONTO - There is a key word to understanding the Global response and reaction to Novel Coronavirus, conveniently renamed Covid-19. It’s in the name: Novel. As in, new, to us; as in, we are working on assumptions, projections based on assumptions and models for those projections reliant on untested data.
Ah Data, so hard to come by. So jealously guarded from potential other beneficiaries. So strategically disseminated as to provoke questions regarding authenticity, timeliness and reliability.
But that does not mean we don’t have some evidence to guide us through this health crisis. It is a crisis – not only for the unfortunate souls who contract the disease and die. We should correctly dedicate resources to resolving the health issues (the microbiological causes, treatments today and “vaccines” for tomorrow). We have the capacity.
We also know, apparently, a key factor about this virus. It is a respiratory disease, pneumonia and influenza category killer like others before it – SARS comes to mind. But if we do have “lessons learned” from that SARS experience, no one is sharing them with the general public, or they have no application to today’s Covid-19.
The most refreshing public statements – even if tad depressing – have come from Dr. Antonio Fauci, director of the National Institute of Health Agency for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Deborah Birks, White House coronavirus response coordinator, in a White House press conference on March 26.
Briefly, Dr. Fauci (who has an unparalleled reputation earned over a career spanning five decades) said “when we get the data” we’ll be able to develop the effective and safe strategies.
In other words, in North America at least, we don’t have data. With over 124,763 “confirmed infected” in just a few days, and testing moving into high gear, the USA are about to get their own home-grown facts about Covid-19 and its behaviour.
In the meantime, he says, he’s on the phone constantly with colleagues in Italy – the European epi-centre – and now Spain and others to track and exchange information potentially leading to short term mitigation tactics. One has a sense of reassurance that an adult is in charge.
His colleague Dr. Deb Birks was equally professional in explaining how the numbers are derived for public consumption and for public policy initiatives. “Relative accuracy” is determined by engineering models dependent on the sources, quality, promptness and breadth of information provided to organizations like the [USA] Centre for Disease Control and through them to tracking models like the Johns Hopkins University Centre for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE).
As she pointed out, the model depends on (1) reporting, (2) testing -mostly post infection, (3) extrapolating the numbers to apply to the larger population and (4) follow-up on the “survivors” in order to draw some reasonable conclusions regarding infection rates and those most at risk.
A layman will understand that the greater the number of standardized testing the better the quality of the data reported. The USA was conducting practically no testing until two weeks ago, and it was already at least two weeks behind the Italian experience.
In Ontario, according to an analysis by two Toronto Star journalists, Ed Webb and Kenyon Wallace, found that Ontario’s infection rate is about 3.3 per one thousand tested and completed, but that the backlog of those waiting to be tested is growing. It will likely continue to do so for another three weeks until the province reaches a capacity to test more than 18,000 per day, a long way o from yesterday’s total of 2,400.
So much for the claim that we learned a lot from SARS. And there seems to be little by way of co-ordinated in reaching out to experiences elsewhere. We should be grateful that the numbers globally available suggest an infection rate of slightly more than 1% of the citizenry, so far.
The CSSE numbers for China have remained unchanged for more than a week. The totals of confirmed cases almost align with the sums of those deceased and those cured. Only 3,600 of 81,999 confirmed cases are still active (numbers as of march 28).
No other country is even remotely close. More significantly, 91.6% of those confirmed infected are listed as recovered. What have they learned that they are not sharing?
Meanwhile, the only strategy that seems to work is containment: stay away from people and wash your hands.