COVID-19 | Can we trust the numbers?

Apparently, no, and figures from WHO appear to be highly misleading.

In a non-peer reviewed article for Medrxiv, Alexander Lachman argues that the scale of the crisis has overwhelmed healthcare systems ability to monitor and report cases. The outcome of a nation not having the infrastructure or policy to guide reporting has meant that severe cases, which are more likely lead to fatal outcomes, are detected at a higher percentage than mild cases.

Using South Korea for benchmark data and population demographics, Lachman estimates that China’s confirmed cases of 80,932 as of mid-March was highly under-reported and the truer value is estimated at more that 700,000. And China is not alone in the under-reporting according to the author; the COVID-19 case numbers are being misrepresented in most countries.

But I can trust the authorities, right?

Well, that depends on where you live and just what the authorities are telling you. Every health safety guideline from your government aimed to combat the spread of virus should come from reliable, valid medical sources and should influence your actions. But those pesky death rates might be skewed when it is not possible or advised to test those who have died.

Buzzfeed picked up on this point, reporting that authorities in New York City and Los Angeles County released guidance encouraging doctors not to test patients unless they think the test will significantly change their course of treatment. That means that potentially more people in both places could be admitted to hospitals with severe respiratory symptoms and recover, or die, and not be registered as a coronavirus case.

So, the under reporting isn’t just a 3rd world problem, then?

Clearly the scale of this pandemic has laid bare how unprepared the whole world is to contain and combat COVID-19. If the real scale of the virus isn’t correctly understood, then it’s so much more difficult to assign resources to the people and places where its most needed.

The tech response to reporting

With 750,000+ downloads in a matter of days, a research app from the UK called C-19 COVID Symptom Tracker is bringing together information that will assist medical professionals in the NHS to better plan their responses. Identification of where clusters of cases are better determines where medical resources get directed to and where emergency response teams deploy to.

Will better accuracy in reporting help the fight?

No doubt; and understanding what needs to be done in the short-term compliments how any vaccine will be distributed. Human trials will begin imminently, but even if they are successful and a cure is found, there are huge barriers before global immunisation is feasible.