Coronavirus: Good News, Bad News, Bad News, & Maybe Good News

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I try to stay away from coronavirus coverage here because … it’s not cleantech. But strange times require strange rhymes. I do spend a lot of time reading about the coronavirus, COVID-19, and the economic results, and when it seems something is underreported or deserves extra amplification, I cannot pass it up.

I’ve covered various sides of these issues — from Icelandic testing and initial findings (which major news outlets covered weeks later) to statistical concerns with antibody testing and unwarranted conclusions based off of that, for example.

Now, some data has been collected that I’ve been waiting days or longer for a better journalist than me to pull together. Taking it and some other research into account, we’ve got some good, bad, bad, and potentially good news on the coronavirus pandemic to share and discuss.

The Financial Times (FT) journalists and editors noticed the same thing I noticed regarding testing and COVID-19 death estimates, and they came to an important conclusion (but probably much earlier than me): data around COVID-19 testing is so crappy and so unlikely to get to the level needed anytime soon that we need a better way of estimating deaths from COVID-19, and that way is by looking at overall differences in deaths during this time period versus the same time period in previous years. There are some complications to consider with such data as well, though, since people sitting on their couches at home for weeks or months at a time is likely to lead to fewer deaths from certain causes (like car accidents) but could increase deaths from other causes (suicide, domestic violence). Nonetheless, if you cover enough geographic diversity, including places with lockdowns and places taking almost no action to limit societal activity, you can get some clearly useful data.

One piece of bad news on this front is that a lot more people seem to be dying from COVID-19 at this time than the official COVID-19 death counts capture. This makes sense since many people get the disease and die from it but don’t get tested due to lack of tests. Also, a lot of sick people are staying home (either because it’s recommended to do so if you don’t have an extreme case, or because they’re scared to go to the hospital), and a portion of those people die at home and their death gets attributed to other matters. There’s also an attempt in some places to keep the COVID-19 death count down. Though, some people are convinced there are also efforts to inflate death counts from the virus. The approach the FT took gets around these issues since it looks at total deaths (all causes) and compares those to the number of deaths in normal times. Looking at the data collected by the FT, the virus looks more dangerous than many people have been presuming.

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The good news is that cases and deaths seem to be dropping strongly in many countries.

More bad news, however, is that the drops probably stem in large part from the fact that many people have been staying at home for more than a month. You would expect cases and deaths to go down eventually as a result of that. The problem is that you could also expect to see a spike in cases and deaths as people go out into society more and the spread of the virus picks up again.

The potentially good news at the end? Sweden has had one of the most lax responses to the pandemic, yet, looking at the death charts above, it seems to be doing fairly well. Does that mean going about our business in a more normal way wouldn’t dramatically change what’s happening with the virus? Maybe. Or maybe the government death count is too low or delayed. Or maybe they’re doing something better when people do get sick that is helping avert higher levels of mortality. Who knows? Much more work needs to be done to examine the data and the healthcare options for people who get COVID-19. Update: This paragraph only concerns Sweden’s stats in the chart above. Other data has show a big spike in deaths from COVID-19 there. It’s possible the figures above are simply less complete. We’ll find out in time. Update #2: Here’s an explanation for Sweden, one of the hypotheses above, numbers are delayed:

We seem to be learning, for example, that invasive ventilators may be doing more harm than good (i.e., killing people) whereas non-invasive ventilators like the ones Tesla/Elon Musk donated are helpful. More research needs to be done studying that and many other issues. Luckily, professionals around the world are working at great pace to try to understand everything they can about the virus and how we should respond to it. That’s got to lead to some breakthroughs in understanding and healthcare soon, right? Right? …

Hey, is anyone there?

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

Zachary Shahan has 7340 posts and counting. See all posts by Zachary Shahan