The Golden Key

I think I’ve identified the issue that’s driving public policy with respect to COVID-19, at least in the State of Illinois. It came to me as I was reading this article in the Chicago Tribune:

Gov. J.B. Pritzker took his admonition that parts of Illinois could be headed for a reopening reversal downstate on Thursday, as the state continues to see elevated levels of COVID-19 cases and other key metrics.

State officials on Thursday reported 1,772 newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus over the prior 24 hours. That’s the first time the count has climbed above 1,700 since Memorial Day.

“Every region has increasing positivity rates and increasing cases. This is hugely problematic,” Pritzker said Thursday at a news conference in downstate Ottawa. “It means that we’re going to have to take a hard look at what do we need to do, what mitigations do we need now in order to get us back in line with the direction that we were going, which was reducing those positivity rates.”

I think he’s assuming a fixed relationship between the morbidity and mortality rates for COVID-19. Is there actually any evidence of that? The “morbidity” means the prevalence of a disease. The “mortality” means the death rate due to it. I think we can all agree that if there are no new cases of COVID-19 there won’t be any deaths among those non-existent cases, either.

I think it’s reasonable to assume that as the number of cases increase, the number of deaths will, too, but not necessarily in any fixed relationship. It might actually be true that as the number of cases increase, the proportion of those cases that lead to death will decrease. Go back and take a look at my post of a day or so ago. Isn’t that what the numbers seem to be saying?

Until there’s a safe, effective, affordable vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, we’re not going to reduce the number of new cases to zero. We should be prepared that may never happen. And as long as there are any cases, unless there’s a safe, effective, affordable treatment, there’s a risk that the disease will lead to death. We need to be prepared for that possibility, too.

9 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw Link

    I think the governor, like other public officials and the media, are subject to some sort of persistence fallacy. If measurements are trending in a bad direction, they will continue to trend unless stopped by an outside force. While that me be true in terms of physics, its doubtful as to biology.

    This stands out with the Governor’s downstate tourist trip in places like Peoria and Ottawa where he warned the region’s metrics are trending in a direction that would necessitate shut-downs. Those cities are seeing significant rises, but the region’s metrics are some of the lowest in the state (4.1% positive rate, up from 3.3% a week ago, compared with 4.8% current positive rate for Chicago).

    The worst hit region is Metro East (East St. Louis), where hospital admissions were declining while case numbers increased. That’s possibly because people in that area use out-of-state medical services, which Pritzker’s plan ignores.

  • I think the governor, like other public officials and the media, are subject to some sort of persistence fallacy. If measurements are trending in a bad direction, they will continue to trend unless stopped by an outside force.

    IMO the impulse to “do something” factors into that.

  • steve Link

    Does he just do this stuff w/o explanation? The only reason I could see to stay at a high level of closure there is if you are trying to achieve very low numbers in the hopes that when you re-open you have minimal recurrence. Not sure that is possible.

    Florida just had 3rd straight day of over 200 deaths. Wonder how high they go? My former staff now in Miami says they are swamped. On the plus side hospitalizations seem to be dropping.



  • Does he just do this stuff w/o explanation?

    Pretty much. There’s some handwaving about “science”. The governor probably hasn’t taken a science class since the 1980s if then.

    Yesterday I paid my property tax bill. It has increased ten-fold since we bought the house 35 years ago. The value of my house hasn’t increased in 25 years. The only secure way I can pay it is in person. Sending a tax bill through the mail in Chicago is about as reliable as handing it to the next passer-by you see headed more or less in the direction of the Cook County Treasurer’s office. We only pay bills by autopay or in person. We can’t be sure they’ll actually arrive otherwise.

  • Andy Link

    Here in Colorado our case count has reached the previous peak from April, but our deaths have barely moved at all and hospitalizations haven’t markedly increased either. I’m not sure what the best explanation is for this, but I suspect it’s an artifact of testing. For example, the positivity rate in the April peak was ~20% and now it’s 4%.

  • steve Link

    Andy- I would look at the ages of those infected. Just a guess but would think that means you are having younger people testing positive.

    Dave- We have never had a Covid pandemic before so no one really knows what to do. Who knows, maybe when this is all over Pritzker will look stupid or like a star. Regardless, he should be explaining his thought process along the way.


  • PD Shaw Link

    When I wrote this morning. Peoria and Ottawa (and Quincy and Chester) were hotspots. Now they are not.

    Now Springfield is a hotspot, as are Galena, Waterloo (again) and over a half dozen counties in the Shawnee National Forest (Southern IL), where my wife and daughter plan to hike next week for their shared birthday outing.

    The former were delisted because of one day trend reversal, and the others are listed because of a week’s bad trend, even though places like Springfield are either at the same relative shape as Chicago this week. I think the trend metrics are pretty crappy and meaningless at this point. Which is not to say that it appears that areas with previously low levels of infection are not showing increases, they are. Mainly seems like there is some sort of natural level everyplace is reverting too.

  • Guarneri Link

    I chose not to even comment on your “You Make the Policy” post because I thought you were trolling us. The numbers speak for themselves.

    Empirically, we have not permanently thwarted covid cases for squat. We simply time shifted them. Nothing more. And that’s what you are seeing now. But look at the mortality rates. I predicted that in the first couple weeks. Its just common sense.

    For the umpteenth time. Easy, cost efficient precautions. The vulnerable need to be responsible for themselves. Perhaps, maybe, aid or restrictions to elderly care institutions to limit the damage.

    You don’t destroy the world to implement virtue signaling, impotent public policy. Its folly.

    Bet referencing another post. Maybe grandma or grandpa didn’t mind that groping in airports………

  • The numbers speak for themselves.

    I wasn’t trolling but I do think the numbers speak for themselves. I don’t see many good ways of explaining the policies. I think the most likely is that Pritzker, Lightfoot, etc. are unwilling to engage in cost-benefit analysis and so just assume, incorrectly, that the mortality per 1,000 cases is more or less constant.

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