Precision and COVID-19 Rates

Holman Jenkins had a piece last Friday on the relationship between recessions and the end of infectious disease epidemics. His central thesis was that Covid-19 Can’t Spread if You Stay Home.  From that, folks are neither buying things nor working at the production of goods and services for others to (not) buy, and that’s the stuff of recessions.

But he closed with this comparison, which missed a larger point about what it is that we need to target in order to end an infectious disease epidemic, particularly one like the current coronavirus epidemic which has such skewed outcomes.

[N]otice that South Korea, one of the hard-hit countries, reports 0.6% [fatality rate]. When it comes to such degrees of precision, you probably would want to tune out if you knew just how fuzzy the underlying flu extrapolations are.

And they are fuzzy, with relatively large error bars, especially when only the overall affected population is considered.

It’s also useful, though, to consider the demographics: who actually becomes symptomatic, who has other medical conditions (and what those are), who gets seriously sick, who dies.

It’s also useful to put those demographics in the context of the quality of medical care available in the affected nation.

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