That new corona virus is an invisible enemy. One of our main weapons is an endless stream of data, but it can often be confusing.
When society carefully reopens, how do we know if we control it? Here are six numbers that must be considered.
What is the percentage of positive tests
Why is that number – ‘testing positivity’ – important?
If the number of positive tests is too high, it shows that there are a large number of cases in the community that are not found.
If anything, it raises questions: Are we sufficient to test, in relation to the scale of the problem?
World Health Organization looking for a figure below 10 percent, even though Global News has talked to experts who say that the numbers are arbitrary, and set too low.
(Whether somewhere is sufficiently tested is important to be able to reopen: with high-risk decisions, the more we know the better.)
Applied to Canada, the chart below seems to be convincing, except for Quebec, where the positivity level of the test remained harsh above 15 percent for almost a month.
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How the testing level changes
In early April Ontario, the Canadian province that was most severely affected after Quebec, experienced lowest testing rate of the country.
In this case, the question is: Have the most severely affected provinces tested enough?
As you can see, that changes dramatically, perhaps in part due to pressure from Premier Doug Ford. In the past week, Ontario has the highest level of testing among all provinces. (Only high-population provinces are shown below.)
How fast is it to double the case?
Given that we know that an increase in cases that is too fast will overwhelm our ability to handle it, it’s important to know how fast they grow.
The chart below shows how quickly confirmed cases develop, illustrating how long it will take to double in certain provinces.
As you can see, it’s between one week and two weeks for most provinces, other than in Quebec.
Please note that the chart below is a ‘logarithmic chart: the vertical axis expands at an increasingly fast speed.
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How to see Canadian coronavirus mortality data
What can we learn by looking at Canada’s national coronavirus mortality? This shows that we flattened the most important curve, which is how many Canadians were killed by the virus.
As you can see, there are many daily variations in coronavirus deaths. This can be annoying if you want to understand trends, so it might be more useful to see solid lines on a chart that shows an average of 7 days.
The line began to flatten in mid-April, about a month after Canada began to be locked: this makes sense, because people who die of coronavirus generally die about three or four weeks after infection. So it is very helpful to think about data that is suspended for about a month or more.
Also, data about deaths can unlock the door to learn some pandemic secrets.
As we learn more about coronavirus, we get closer to finding out what the actual death rate is: it’s challenging right now, because we don’t know how many people actually have this disease. One study estimated it at 0.37 percent, which means there might be about 300 Canadians with coronavirus for every person who dies because of it. It worked around one million people. For that to be true, there must be a large number of people without symptoms.
Do reproduction numbers begin with decimals?
Is the pandemic getting worse, getting better or staying the same? Epidemiologists tell us to look at something called ‘reproductive numbers,’ or ‘R numbers,’ to get ideas. The mathematics of how to calculate it is complicated, but the concept is very simple: on average, how many other people are infected by someone with a corona virus?
We want to see the number R as far as possible below 1.
In mid-March, when Canada began closing schools and businesses, the R number had the potential to be a disaster 2.8. That has the potential for an uncontrolled pandemic: if one person infects an average of 2.8 people, and each person infects 2.8 more people, the hospital will quickly be overwhelmed.
Now, as you can see, the number R is around 0.8, which means the plague is shrinking, although not as fast as we would like.
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Infection is more common in the old – or what is it?
The chart below has changed very little since we first started updating it in March. In general, the older the age group, the higher the level of positive tests. More than 80s had far more than their share of infection, and teens and children were far less. Or so it seems.
But what if it leads to something else: a case in undetectable young people?
A German study was published in early May suggest other interpretations. In the study, more than 900 randomly selected people of all ages were tested for the corona virus.
“The infection rates in children, adults and parents are very similar and do not seem to depend on age,” said Prof. Hendrik Streeck from the University of Bonn.
So another interpretation of the graph is that it shows how we are more aware of coronavirus cases in middle age and old age, and the reason we are more aware of them is because they experience more severe effects, and are more likely to seek attention and medical testing. Conversely, many young people are positive, but show no symptoms.
(Among the crew members who tested positive on the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, a group younger than average, the majority are asymptomatic.)
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