Coronavirus, and the Media's Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

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“US has more known cases of coronavirus than any other country” - CNN

Reading breathless headlines such as this, one would never know that the on a cases per million population basis, the United States  is on par with Germany, often held out as European country with a low incidence of cases, and well below the rates for Spain, Italy, France, Belgium, and Switzerland. 

But wait, this must be because of the US’s low testing rate, notwithstanding that our testing rate per million is above that of Spain, France, the UK, and Switzerland.

“The United States is reporting 20,000 coronavirus deaths, more than any other country” - CNN

This headline gives no hint that the US has one of the lowest death rates per million when compared to Western European countries.  In fact, the rate for Spain is about 6 times the US, with Italy, France, Belgium, and UK, being 5 times, 4 times, 6 times, and 2.5 times respectively.  Only Germany has a rate lower, at about half the US’s.    

“What California is doing right in responding to the coronavirus pandemic” – CNN

Yes, California does have a low rate per million of cases and deaths.  But Texas is lower on both metrics and is little praised.  In terms of cases, California is at 572 per million, but Texas, the second most populous state, has an even lower rate of 474.  What about the much maligned state of Florida? Yes, its rate is higher at 939, but this is about half the rate in Pennsylvania, and one tenth the rate in New York.  The multiples for New Jersey, Michigan, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Illinois, Georgia, Connecticut, Washington, Maryland, Indiana, and Colorado.   Of the 16 states with the largest number of cases, Texas, California, and Florida have the lowest numbers of cases per million.

How California Has Avoided a Coronavirus Outbreak as Bad as New York’s…So Far: Earlier stay-at-home orders and a less dense population have helped state manage pandemic, but risk remains high, particularly in L.A.” - WSJ

This reporting on California seems to confuse correlation with causation. Texas’s stay-at-home order (March 31) came much later than California (March 19), yet, as already noted, its metrics are much better that even California’s. Florida’s order came a day later than Texas’s and as already noted, it has the third lowest case per million.  Its deaths per million stands at 22, only somewhat higher than California’s 16.  And Texas’ stands at 10, one of the lowest rates in the country. The facts around California, Texas, and Florida, suggest that stay-at-home orders be unnecessary in these large, less, densely populated states.  Social distancing, limits on crowd size, and a focus on vulnerable populations may be a much more sensible solution, one that inflicts much less damage on the economy and economic well-being of most American households.  

Providing the complete facts to the American people is of the utmost importance as we debate and decide how and when to start reopening the economy and begin some normalization of activities.  The data demonstrate that the pandemic has been most severe in 7 states with the highest number of cases per million population: New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Louisiana, and Connecticut.  These 8 states account for 67% 0f all cases and, as recently as April 11, accounted for 71% of new cases.  With the exception of Mardi Gras –plagued Louisiana, 7 of these hard-hit states are in the Northeast and Midwest.

The sooner we begin to take measured steps in the weeks ahead to start reopening the economy and begin some normalization of activities, the sooner we will stop inflicting incalculable harm on our economy and American households.


Edward J. Pinto is a Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. 

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