Daring to Look for Perspective on the Pandemic


Even if you don’t believe that it is happening in any particular case, let’s stipulate that it is possible for the news media and political elite to affect how the rest of us see an issue of current concern.  The way they convey facts (and the facts that they choose to convey) creates a framework in which we understand the world around us.  They give us a sense of how we should feel about things.

That’s why it’s crucial to try to maintain perspective.

So, when WPRI backs up Governor Raimondo’s crackdown on beaches with a headline like “RI beach communities seeing fastest growth of new COVID-19 cases,” it’s worth asking ourselves a simple question:  How significant is this, really?

Helpfully, WPRI provides an interactive map that readers can hover over to see actual numbers.  The color coding is supposed to emphasize the point that the waterfront towns are in the red.  They’re dangerous, because “of overcrowding and lax social distancing on beaches and boats.”

Put aside the fact that our entire state is basically coastal and people from every other city and town access the water, too.  Perhaps more in some cases.  Nevermind that arguably more than half of the cities and towns that actually touch the water are not in the red.  Just look at the numbers.

WPRI marks Jamestown as a hot spot of COVID-19 based on an increase of two cases in about two weeks.  That could be a single couple that caught the disease anywhere in the world.  Charlestown is in the worst group, with a 25% increase.  That actually means six people.  A family of six just back from a vacation could do that.

Keep in mind that thousands of people live in each of these towns.

On the other hand, Providence is not in the red, despite an increase of 216 residents.  The difference is that there were already 5,840 people in the city who had tested positive.  In other words, the underlying beachfront story is that small numbers of new people tested positive in communities that had small numbers of cases to begin with.

One town that jumped out at me on the map is Middletown, which is also in the worst group, with an increase of 14 cases from 55 to 69.  The reason that caught my attention was that the local Newport Daily News had just recently run with its own scary headline, “Tiverton has highest coronavirus positive test rate in Newport County,” whereas Middletown was the lowest.

As I noted on Tiverton Fact Check, 91 cases in Tiverton seems like a lot compared with 55 in Middletown, but in proportion to population, it’s the difference between 99.7% of Middletown being COVID-free and 99.4% of Tiverton.  Randomly pick Tiverton residents, and you’ll go through 174 before finding anybody who has tested positive over the past six months, and they won’t all have active infections.  Moreover, simply encountering them is not a guarantee of catching the disease.

As I found on local Facebook, trying to apply some sort of context can make one a target.  Suggesting that the facts justify caution, but not “living in fear,” apparently makes a person a reckless propagandist who wants people to die.

That is the attitude that has been fostered by the presentation of COVID-19 to the public, which has created a terrible atmosphere in which to be making major life-and-society-affecting decisions.

  • Lou

    “How significant is this, really?” maybe about as significant your attempted smokescreen when your tried to peg Burrilliville as a hot spot. We still haven’t received any updates from you about it. “That actually means six people. A family of six just back from a vacation could do that.”…it must be liberating to try and argue both sides on an issue and not be constrained by reality. How many cases do you think were behind the Burrilliville “spike”?

    • ShannonEntropy

      How many times do we have to go over this, Lou ??

      Burrillville — there’s only two ‘i’s not three in the name — had an outbreak of 80 cases back in April. In a town of just under 17,000 that’s the equivalent of Providence having over 900 new cases

      That’s not a “spike” that’s a tsunami, epidemiologically speaking.
      Do us all a favor and stick with the “Orange Man Bad” stuff


      • Lou

        The “tsunami” was people who worked in the town, not who lived there. The to-date total for residents is 118. Let’s save the drama. That’s not even close the to per capita leader. If you’re interested in facts, the positive test rate for Providence residents is 17%, Burrillville, 6%. Maybe you can extrapolate those figures and argue with Justin.

  • Lou

    It’s been over a week without a “Games with Models” Kung Flu/Trump Virus update. Does that mean the hoax is over?

  • Rhett Hardwick

    I owe this one to Fred Reed – “A conservative friend says that the face masks tend to clog up with moisture from breath and nasal effluents, and stop the flow of air, causing oxygen deprivation and brain damage, so that you end up a Democrat. “

    • Christopher C. Reed
      • Rhett Hardwick

        As I understand it, the basic facts are these. A mask may slightly reduce the chances of infected people spreading the virus; but are completely ineffective in preventing a healthy person from contracting the virus in aerosol form.

        • Lou

          Yes, many selfish people have trouble processing that concept.

          COVID-19 can be spread by people who do not have symptoms and do not know that they are infected. That’s why it’s important for everyone to wear cloth face coverings in public settings and practice social distancing (staying at least 6 feet away from other people).

          • Rhett Hardwick

            The virus travels primarily as a aerosol. Masks may prevent globules of spit and mucus, which carry the virus, but will not prevent the inhalation of aerosols (surgical masks may)

          • Lou

            So unless you have the data that breaks down spreading transmission frequency (aerosols vs. spit and mucus), I find your claim of “slightly ” suspect.

          • Christopher C. Reed

            yeah…here’s the thing. NONE of the RCT studies support masking. The ‘optimistic’ studies appear hedged full of ‘coulds, shoulds, and oughts’. So much for ‘The Science’.
            Apparently the minimum titer for infection is one (1) micron-sized virion.

          • Lou

            So I suppose you can provide more definitive RCT’s supporting NOT masking.