In the 1980s, when I started working in financial analysis for a $3 billion company, my first project was to work with the company's field organizations to ensure that the metrics (financial and operational) were sent in a timely manner and based on consistent definitions. The goal was to ensure that the daily, weekly and monthly reports included correct, consistent information that could be compared across the company. It took a few months, but we were able to ensure that we were getting good information in a timely manner.
Fast-forward a few decades. Months into the coronavirus pandemic, we are still grappling with how to collect, compile and interpret data correctly. A New York Times article by Sarah Kliff and Margot Sanger-Katz published Tuesday titled "Bottleneck for U.S. Coronavirus Response: The Fax Machine" notes that data is being funneled through several pipelines. As a result, there is a good chance some of that data is missed or counted twice.
"Health departments track the virus's spread with a distinctly American patchwork: a reporting system in which some test results arrive via smooth data feeds but others come by phone, email, physical mail or fax," Kliff and Sanger-Katz wrote. "These reports often come in duplicate, go to the wrong health department, or are missing crucial information such as a patient's phone number or address."
Robert Guaderrama of Florida FOX 35 in Orlando reported this week: "the Florida Department of Health said that some laboratories have not been reporting negative test result data to the state. Countless labs have reported a 100 percent positivity rate, which means every single person tested was positive." Clearly, this is highly unlikely.
The challenge is that, if the numbers put in the system are not good, well, then, what comes out is garbage. Let's just assume that we could get good data into our system. We would then sort through the data to determine what it means.
Based on my business experience above, I learned that once we accumulated good, consistent data over time, we were able to determine data trends, correlations and causation. The latter proved key. By determining causation, managers could focus on improving outcomes.
Back to the pandemic. We are currently debating whether to reopen schools, and the press is reporting the number of cases and deaths every day but telling us little about who is catching the disease, who is dying from it and why. In April, the Science Museum Group Science Director Roger Highfield interviewed Kari Stefansson, the CEO of deCODE genetics, which is based in Reykjavik, Iceland. Stefansson studied the causes of COVID-19's spread in Iceland. The interview was posted on the Science Museum Group website on April 27.
"Children under 10 are less likely to get infected than adults and if they get infected, they are less likely to get seriously ill," said Stefansson. "What is interesting is that, even if children do get infected, they are less likely to transmit the disease to others than adults. We have not found a single instance of a child infecting parents."
David Spiegelhalter, chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at the University of Cambridge, wrote a Medium article published on June 13 titled "What have been the fatal risks of Covid, particularly to children and younger adults?"
"Across seven countries up to 19th May, there had been 44 COVID deaths recorded out of over 137 million 0-19 year-olds, a rate of less than 1 in 3 million, while this same group suffered over 1000 deaths from accidents over this same period," he wrote. What else did Spiegelhalter discover? "The extraordinary linearity of the death rates on the logarithmic scale shows that COVID death rates have a fairly precise exponential increase with age, increasing at around 12-13% each year, corresponding to a doubling every 5-6 years."
OK, so now we know that children are not spreading to adults and the risk of death increases with age. What else makes a difference in the death rate? "The Office of National Statistics for England and Wales reported that '90 percent of COVID deaths had other pre-existing conditions mentioned on death certificate,'" according to Spiegelhalter.
So, age and underlying health make a huge difference.
We've also learned that we can reduce the risk of catching COVID-19 by taking basic precautions, which include cleaning, sanitizing, distancing oneself from others and spending time outdoors. Even if you do catch it, your chance of dying from it is less than 1%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
We should focus on controlling what we can but still moving forward. Making kids stay home does not make sense.
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