Deeper into the Model That Started It All

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On Twitter earlier today, I quipped that Governor Raimondo says she intends to make decisions about opening our economy based on “science and fact,” but she won’t show anybody the model she’s using to make decisions.  That’s not how science works.

Shortly thereafter, I came across an essay by Steve Trost, of the Oklahoma State University and the Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise, with the following intent:

As a very technical person who remains inherently skeptical of claims not supported by solid evidence and/or well-reasoned arguments, I took it upon myself to review a plethora of reports and data analyses regarding the spread of the deadly SARS-CoV2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19). In that respect, I strongly prefer going to the source documents written by acclaimed ‘experts’ rather than merely relying upon interpretations (or interpretations of interpretations) presented by journalists.

As a direct result of my aforementioned skepticism, I have closely reviewed the COVID-19 data analyses and reports produced by three distinguished teams of researchers – the Imperial College in London, Oxford University, and the University of Washington.

For the post in question, Trost focused on the Imperial College model, because that’s the one that predicted 2.2 million deaths in the United States if we did nothing in the face of the coronavirus and that therefore kicked off the “media hysteria and extreme political reactions.”  What he finds might surprise those who’ve followed news through mainstream sources.

Namely, the Imperial College team found that U.S. deaths could be reduced 98% (to fewer than 50,000) by following a targeted strategy:

Their comprehensive COVID-19 suppression plan (the one they predicted would reduce deaths by 98%) involved four specific ‘social isolation’ strategies: case isolation (CI), household quarantine (HQ), social distancing (SD), and school closures (PC). More specifically, the above strategies can be grouped into three distinct responses:

  • case isolation at home (CI) and household quarantine (HQ) (if you have symptoms, everyone in your household stays at home for 14 days, i.e. no direct contact with anyone outside the household, with the exception of medical professionals, as needed for testing and/or treatment),
  • social distancing of the entire population (SD) (if no one in your household has symptoms, you can still go to work, but you are expected to reduce social contact by 25% at work and by 75% everywhere else), and
  • closure of schools and universities (PC) (government closes all schools, 25% of universities remain open).

Another extremely important aspect of the Imperial College COVID-19 suppression plan (that has been completely ignored by the media and politicians and just about everyone else) is that the strategies were designed to be applied LOCALLY or REGIONALLY, based on triggers tied to the # of empty ICU beds available within a given community.

In other words, a rational approach to address the actual problem our society was facing would have been 98% effective and without destroying our economy and putting our civil rights on the line.  Even more:

…the Imperial College epidemiologists analyzed the effect of stopping mass gatherings and concluded that stopping mass gatherings “is predicted to have relatively little impact … because the contact-time at such events is relatively small compared to the time spent at home, in schools or workplaces and in other community locations” [italics Trost’s]

Notably, that means Easter Mass could have gone on.

Instead of a reasoned approach, we went with panic and “we’re two weeks late to stop this thing.”  Now, like Trost, I like to go to original sources, so I can’t say whether the sledge hammer approach will prove to have been correct in a more thorough analysis with the data that the coming months will provide.  I will say, though, that the reasoned approach intuitively seems more appropriate to a virus with a 98% survival rate, and it is also in keeping with our experience that the results are coming back way lower than we’ve been led to expect.

Moreover, in a state where 75% of all COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes, a strategy that explicitly focused on such populations may very well have been more effective in keeping down deaths than trying to hit the brakes on our entire society.