Light to see

Published April 2, 2020

By Carter Wrenn

You rarely hear a politician or a TV talk show host or health-care bureaucrat mention it but there’s one crucial fact we don’t know: The Infection Rate. We don’t know the total number of people in the United States who have already been infected by coronavirus.

Why is that fact crucial?

In Italy the government reports 97,000 Italians have had coronavirus and 11% have died. That’s a staggering number. But, at the same time, Germany reports 64,000 Germans have had coronavirus and .9% (not nine percent but nine-tenths of one percent) have died.

Can an Italian be 12 times more likely to die of coronavirus than a German?

Michael Lewis, the author of Moneyball, looking at the numbers, suggested it’s “likely the Germans have tested huge numbers of people and the Italians have tested only people with serious symptoms. That is, some vast number of Italians have had the virus but were never tested, either because their symptoms never sent them running to the hospital or they never even knew they had it.”

In Great Britain scientists are having the same debate.

One group of scientists – at the Imperial College – looked at people who had been tested across the world and predicted 500,000 Britains and 2 million American could die of coronavirus.

But a second group of scientists at Oxford University looking at the same numbers said, Hold on. That study doesn’t include people with coronavirus who weren’t tested because they had mild symptoms – people who didn’t go a hospital and weren’t tested.

The Oxford scientists then theorized – based on a model – that half the people in Great Britain may have already been infected with coronavirus – which meant the Imperial College scientists’ death rate (of 500,000 people) was wildly high.

The Oxford scientists also suggested a way to prove their theory: They proposed doing tests of Great Britain’s entire population, tests that would include not just severely ill people but people with mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. And proving the Oxford scientists’ theory didn’t require giving a coronavirus test to every man, woman and child in Great Britain – instead a test of a carefully chosen sample of the population would provide the numbers Britain needed.

The bottom line is no one knows the ‘infection rate’ in Italy, Britain or in the United States.

It’s a hard fact that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) bungled the first coronavirus tests – the CDC took control of the testing but then its test didn’t work. Which meant that New York – like Italy – only had enough coronavirus tests to test the very sick, so now when we open the newspaper and read the death rates in New York we say, Oh, my God.

But we don’t know whether millions of New Yorkers with ‘mild symptoms’ have had coronavirus and were never tested.

We’re flying blind.

Again, to quote Michael Lewis: “If we don’t know who has the virus…if you can’t see where it is, you don’t know how to fight it, except by shutting everything down and telling people to stay away from each other.”

The Good Lord gave us eyes to see and brains to think but since Eve and Adam bit the apple human foibles cloud our eyesight, then fear raises its head and a man’s eyes lock on the thing that scares him and, lying in bed at night, panic begins to gnaw on him.

America is the most powerful nation on earth. We can – we should – do those tests.