This past week, I kept hearing a media narrative that the southern US is experiencing an explosion of coronavirus cases! In fact, this is one of the things that tanked the market. Is any of this true or is this just another COVID PANIC AWARD? Let’s dig in.
The Media Narrative
This week, several headlines were making the rounds:
- Coronavirus: Rising trend of new cases in southern US states — as it happened -Financial Times (1)
- New Coronavirus Hot Spots Emerge Across South And In California, As Northeast Slows-NPR (2)
- Florida, South Carolina coronavirus figures are the states’ highest yet for a single day (3)
In fact, the media narrative was so powerful, it was one of the reasons given that the stock market tanked on Thursday, down some 1800 points. So is any of this true?
The three states I heard about the most all week were Florida, Arizona, and Texas. So I went to those Department of Health websites and what I found was scary. Not scary concerning coronavirus, but scary concerning the media.
The Florida Data
I went to the Florida Department of Public Health COVID-19 website and easily found these two graphs (4):
The graph on the left is the number of new cases per day, which is increasing. However, as you know from reading this blog, tracking COVID-19 cases per day is a fool’s errand when your testing capacity is also increasing. The graph on the right is testing capacity per week. The blue line that I drew in on both graphs starts on the same date (the graph on the left is per day and on the right is per week). Note that the number of tests performed also increased with the number of cases reported. Then we have this critical graph:
This is the “money shot”. Note that the percentage of positive cases is staying stable to declining. This is what you would have predicted from the above two graphs. Meaning if you test more people you will find more positive cases. So any statement that Florida’s COVID-19 cases are exploding is NOT supported by the data being published by the State of Florida. Hence this statement earns a COVID PANIC! award.
In the media narrative of an explosion in sunbelt cases, Arizona is also mentioned. Below is a graph of daily new cases from the Arizona Department of Health Services website (5):
So while cases per day were trending up after Arizona stopped it’s “Stay at Home” order on May 15th (the blue vertical line I drew in), in the last 10 days, the number cases are way down (black line). However, let’s dig deeper into the increase in cases since the stay at home order was lifted. Why? Remember, if you test more people, you get more cases and almost all states in the US are testing more people week over week.
Regrettably, the graph for the number of tests per day on the Arizona website wasn’t functioning, so I got it from the University of Washington’s IHME site (7):
The red line I drew in is the number of new tests. The blue line is the number of new cases. Hence, any new cases here are likely due to more tests. In fact, for the past 10 days, despite more tests, cases are down. Conclusion? COVID PANIC AWARD!
The Texas Data
The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) website shows this data (6):
This is the percent positive rate of those tested in Texas. Note that my blue line denotes a plateau in the percent positives and then shortly after that time period, the positive rate inches up a bit. However, it always pays to look at the fine print which says, “Starting May 19th, antibody tests are excluded from the denominator.” If you remember grade school math, the denominator is the number on the bottom of a fraction (under the line). When you decrease that number, the total number represented by the fraction gets bigger. Looking at other Texas reported data, Texas has been counting tens of thousands of antibody tests. Hence, what we’re likely seeing in Texas is an artificial bump in the COVID-19 positive rate caused by changes in reporting of the data. Verdict? COVID PANIC AWARD!
Why None of this Surprises Me
I’ve exposed many COVID media narratives in this blog that aren’t supported by the existing data. The media in this case looks like it began with a narrative that the out of control behavior in the sunbelt states was causing a spike in cases. This was likely created in an editorial meeting with assignments given to reporters to write a story. The reporters either don’t know enough or don’t have enough time (or don’t want to lose their jobs) to challenge the narrative.
The upshot? The media narrative that tanked the stock market this week was false! Remember that this narrative caused one of the largest single point drops in the world’s largest stock exchange, wiping out billions in stock value. As I always say, you just can’t make this stuff up!
(1) Financial Times. Coronavirus: Rising trend of new cases in southern US states — as it happened. https://www.ft.com/content/490c1637-fb5d-3945-bd9a-5e246e06d36d Accessed 6/12/20.
(2) National Public Radio. New Coronavirus Hot Spots Emerge Across South And In California, As Northeast Slows. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/06/05/871102763/new-coronavirus-hot-spots-emerge-across-south-and-in-california-as-northeast-slo. Accessed 6/12/20.
(3) Fox News. Florida, South Carolina coronavirus figures are the states’ highest yet for a single day. https://www.foxnews.com/health/florida-south-carolina-coronavirus-figures-are-the-states-highest-yet-for-a-single-day. Accessed 6/12/20.
(4) Florida Department of Health, Division of Disease Control and Health Protection. Florida’s COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard. https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/96dd742462124fa0b38ddedb9b25e429. Accessed 6/12/20.
(5) Arizona Department of Health Services. Data Dashboard-Confirmed COVID-19 Cases by Day. https://www.azdhs.gov/preparedness/epidemiology-disease-control/infectious-disease-epidemiology/covid-19/dashboards/index.php Accessed 6/13/20.
(6) Texas Department of State Health Services. Texas Case Counts-COVID-19. https://txdshs.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/0d8bdf9be927459d9cb11b9eaef6101f. Accessed 6/13/20.
(7) The University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. COVID-19 Projections-Arizona. https://covid19.healthdata.org/united-states-of-america/arizona Accessed 6/13/20.