RALEIGH – There are sorts of infographics and software applications to help visualize the current and coming effects of the Wuhan Coronavirus. Indeed, it is the computer modeling that has projected the overwhelming of hospital resources, deaths in the millions, and informed the months-long quarantine policies.
Naturally, analyzing the advent and future effects of COVID-19 draws the interest of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). Using modeling algorithms, IHME took a look at the likely impact of the virus to get an idea of what the gaps in healthcare resources would be.
The results for North Carolina? A contagion infecting 80,000+ North Carolinians, killing up to 56 people A DAY at its peak in late April.
The projection accounts for metrics such as school closures, social distancing enforcement policies, and non-essential business closures, so that is with us doing everything we’re currently doing to mitigate the spread and spike of the virus. Presumably, the computer model would present a surge with those factors removed as inputs.
This projection is then laid over top the existing healthcare resources we have available in North Carolina in way of ICU beds and ventilators.
So this projection shows an overwhelming of ICU bed capacity, with a sizeable cushion in the ‘All Beds’ category. This model and ones like it, is likely typical of those being presented to elected leaders as they are urged for stiffer policy responses. In seeing numbers like 56 dead citizens a day, it’s easy to see the surface-level rationale for using government force to clamp down harder on the population. Constitutional concerns be damned.
Models, though, are only as good as the data put into them; and the available data on coronavirus is too few and too disjointed to be making such consequential decisions. There are plenty of legitimate questions that should give us pause about relying on models that are built on this data as justification to upend the lives and livelihoods of millions of North Carolinians.
After all, it was a confidence inspired by computer models that convinced Wall Street that Mortgage Backed Securities were a fail safe financial vehicle. Some of the assumptions built into the algorithms were incorrect, and it changed the bottom line entirely. Climate computer models, fueled by bad or inconsistent data, have predicted total meltdown five years ago….no wait, actually by 2020, errr, 2040?
However, the charts showing the historic spike in unemployment claims, or the pension-pounding drop in the stock market, are not projections. They are reflections of the very real damage done in taking unprecedented actions to restrict people’s free movement and utilization of their property. Collateral damage to the economy and social fabric probably is not factored into the public health department’s bottom line recommendations, but they are more real and immediate than hypothetical they’re trying to prevent.
It is not a question of lives versus money. It is lives versus lives.
Every job lost, small-business bankruptcy, deal postponed, every belt tightened, elective surgery canceled, or other deleterious effect from these government reactions is going to have a considerable throughput to public health. Our policy decisions should reflect this, as well as respecting core tenets far more when considering such unforeseen circumstances.
As more and more data becomes available on the virus, hope increases that it is not nearly as deadly as feared based on the perceived experience in Italy. With more testing comes more confirmed cases, but lower rates of severity and death. A LOT lower than original ‘projections’ that inspired public officials to warn of 2+ million American deaths. Perhaps the iron-fisted grip we have granted our government over our daily lives should loosen correspondingly?