The Unbiased Texas COVID-19 Tracker: October 22, 2020

This Week’s Update for Texas:

To reset things for anyone who is new to reading this, the chart above is something that I created months ago and I update it weekly. I work with statistics in my profession on a daily basis and saw the need to track numbers that are not being presented in the media or government in any kind of unbiased fashion. While I always include my own commentary below, I urge you to take a look and reach your own conclusions.

I am particularly frustrated today, so the commentary is probably going to be more blunt than usual. My frustration was spiked by watching the local news in Dallas last night and this morning (and every morning, so this has been building). I bet 40% of the entire newscast was about the positivity rate increasing, subtle jabs at the bars that have been able to re-open, and warnings of spikes in hospitalizations. It is sensationalism, plain and simple, just as much of this has been for months. Then, there’s the little asides from the local news anchors that add to the panic. I’m fed up with it. Hospitalizations have increased a little in the last week or so. Fine. There is a somewhat arbitrary number of keeping hospitalizations below 15% for this issue. We are currently at about half of that, plus surge capacity is significantly higher. Back in MARCH, we were told to hunker down to “flatten the curve.” That curve flattening was to allow for hospitals to prepare, for therapeutics to be investigated and introduced, equipment to be mobilized, etc.. All of that happened very successfully, yet we’re still here in mid-October, panicking about blips on the chart.

That leads me to this week’s questions to ponder. This time, however, I am writing it as an FAQ section. Feel free to chime in.

1. If we just hide for the next week/month/year/decade, won’t the virus just go away? No, it won’t. That’s not how viruses work and you know that.

2. If we can’t just hide from it, and the curve flattening was successful, why are we still crippling big chunks of our economy and our passions, such as bars, music venues, sporting events, and even family gatherings in some places? EXACTLY.

3. The survival rate per population is 99.942% and even higher among younger and healthier folks, can’t we just take great precautions to protect the most vulnerable, such as older people and those with high risk comorbidities? Absolutely. I am not advocating for putting high risk individuals in danger. I am suggesting that the vast majority of us are able to go about our business with minimal risk. Let’s target any relief funds and programs to those at the highest risk so we can get back to our lives and livelihoods.

4. What about the vaccine? Shouldn’t we just wait for that? Short answer: No. Longer answer: How has that worked out for the flu? There’s likely a very good reason that nobody has ever developed a coronavirus (general term) vaccine. These things morph, change and adapt. A vaccine might help down the road, but if you’re waiting for a vaccine to make you feel 100% safe, you’re going to be very disappointed.

5. What about long term medical issues that might be caused by this that we’re not fully aware of yet? See: Answer to #1. Exercise, get some sun, don’t eat fast food 7 times a week, take vitamins (especially zinc, Vitamin D and Vitamin C). Get yourself as far away from being a high risk individual as possible.

6. Shouldn’t we just listen to the experts and do whatever they say? No. Which experts? Virologists look at this strictly from a medical standpoint. Their vision is extremely narrow because that’s their job. This is much more complex. As our society feels the incredible strain of being shut down for almost 8 months, we also must include experts in psychology, economics, sociology, etc., in order to look at this holistically. For example, if we keep everyone home to hide from the virus, but the suicide rate skyrockets, and the domestic violence rate increases, and more people are forced onto social services due to being out of work, what is the net gain from the lockdowns? We’re just playing a shell game with the numbers by moving them into a different column. Don’t accept any kind of “new normal” without being fully informed. Real information reduces anxiety created by fear of the unknown.

I’ll leave you with this:

The best way to fight this virus is by gathering accurate information and making decisions based on facts – not feelings. When done correctly, that is an active process. Sitting back and waiting for CNN, Fox, or any other media outlet to tell you what to think is lazy. Research from as many sources as possible. Read studies that you disagree with, look at how it is being handled in different places. Would you take on any other major life issue by waiting for someone to tell you what you should think or would you try to become as informed as possible? Sadly, this issue seems to have fallen into a couple of different echo chambers and folks are only listening to what confirms their pre-existing bias. That’s not research. That’s irresponsible.

And, as always, don’t be a dick.

Texas COVID-19 Data Update and Analysis

So, as some of you already know, I started collecting and analyzing the Texas COVID-19 data on my own a while back, largely out of frustration with the way the media (and the state) have been presenting it. There are numbers that stir a sense of fear with no basis for comparison, and there are numbers that can be utilized to compare and contrast in order to make good decisions. Most of us can probably agree that the COVID-19 numbers, in both collecting and reporting, have been dubious at a minimum. We’ve seen questionable death certificate numbers, false positives, false negatives, delayed reporting, and so on. Still, they are the numbers we have, so I wanted to use my background in statistics to at least create a clearer picture of the situation. So here we are…

I decided to include last season’s complete flu data and this season’s YTD flu data as a means of comparison. Yes, the diseases are different, but there has to be come kind of baseline in order to determine how much we need to freak out at any given number. No comparison = no frame of reference = no perspective. I update the YTD flu column weekly as the next report is published by Texas HHS. There are approximately 5 weeks remaining in the current flu season and a 2-3 week lag in the publishing of the reports. I also decided to add a column at the end for the degree of change over the previous 7 days and a directional arrow for quick reference purposes. You might say, “That’s a lot of numbers, nerd! What does this shit even mean?!” That was rude, but I’m still glad you asked! The numbers in the top half of the chart are the raw totals taken directly from the Texas HHS web site. The bottom section is where I earn my pay on this – which is exactly zero dollars. These are the calculations and trends that I believe are the most important. A statistic shown as per 100K people is a great one to follow if percentages and decimal places make your head hurt. It’s an apples to apples way to look at complex data. For example, I have used per 100K people calculations to compare different states as well, since the populations vary so dramatically. I split this out by the overall rate, over the age of 65, and under the age of 65, as a way to slice and dice what is really happening in Texas. I chose 65 because that has been the age category the state uses for flu in recent years, thus making it a quick way to compare all of the data across the rows. The bottom two rows are also good to follow and compare if you like percentages and decimal points. The “Survival Rate/Infection” is the rate of survival if you catch COVID-19 and the “Survival Rate/Population” is your overall survival rate based on the population of the Texas – so it’s your actual chance of dying from it as a resident of the state. That number is currently tracking almost identical to the previous two flu seasons. Even if you (hypothetically) double the number of COVID-19 deaths from the current report, that percentage doesn’t move very much because we have almost 30 million people in the state, which is a good thing when trying to assess severity.

Why did I move this week’s result from my usual Facebook post to my blog site? Well, I normally don’t inject much of my personal opinion into these weekly posts. I like to just present the data that I collect and let folks decide for themselves what it means to them. I still think that is very important because how I assess risk might be different than someone else because everyone’s circumstances are unique. With that being said, I have been crunching these numbers for months now, so I have started to develop my own analysis of the numbers. And that’s why we’re here. I am ready to share some opinions and I needed more paragraphs than what is practical in a Facebook post. Plus, there are probably some folks that don’t really give a shit about my opinion on this but they like to see the numbers, so I added the need to click one more time on Facebook to see this blog post. I’ll still probably post the chart in the comments section when I link to this in Facebook, just in case folks don’t want to see my analysis or opinions.

The Meaty Goodness:

This is not intended to frighten, but perspective is very important. Flu and SARS-COV-2 (COVID-19) are different diseases with some unique situations, but the numbers in my weekly chart still provide some good similarities for comparison purposes. A brand new, fast tracked, SARS-COV-2 vaccine will likely have a similar (or lower) success rate than the flu vaccine that has been around for years and is updated annually, tweaked, and perfected over time. You might also have people getting the new vaccine at a higher rate than the flu vaccine because of the current awareness level, media hype, and social climate. So, what does all of that mean? People will still get sick and there will still be deaths from SARS-COV-2 even after a vaccine is released and widely distributed. That’s just the reality of the situation. There is not a magic bullet and waiting for one is simply unrealistic. Arguably, it is also irresponsible because of the “collateral damage” that we are seeing from depression, suicide, substance abuse, domestic violence, business closures, etc.. Hunkering down to figure out the scope of this disease was the right thing to do. It was new and very unknown. We did need to “flatten the curve” to avoid overwhelming the health system. Now, we are equally obligated to make decisions that minimize the very real collateral damage. New diseases, new types of flu, and new viruses make their way around the planet every year and we mitigate the risk the best we can (wash hands, take vitamins, healthy lifestyle, vaccines, treatments, etc.) in order to carry on with our lives. This disease is no different in that regard. There will be both preventives and therapeutics readily available. Some are available now and some are being vetted out as I write this. Be informed. Look at numbers that matter. Determine your own personal level of risk. Minimize exposure if you are showing symptoms. All of that should be pretty easy because it’s the same thing you would do if we were in the midst of an unusually bad flu season or of there was an uptick in another existing disease in any particular season. Prepare to move on and re-enter the world, maybe not today, but it’s coming. It has to. While there might not be a magic bullet for this new disease, that’s ok! In the grand scheme of things, there isn’t a magic bullet for anything that we encounter in the world, yet we go about our lives and we thrive by making the best decisions possible based on the best information available. We experience the joys and disappointments of life. We celebrate. We win. We lose. Above all, we experience the world around us because that’s what humans do.

As always, regardless of your opinion on this or anything else, don’t be a dick.

The REAL Wildcard in the 2016 Election

by: Dave Cox

With all of the craziness coming to a hopeful conclusion this week, I’ve been struggling with understanding exactly how we got here and, more importantly, how to wrap this up and summarize it into something that makes some modicum of sense.

  • Email scandals
  • Bombastic statements
  • Wikileaks
  • Blurred lines between government and charity
  • Pay-for-play
  • Greed
  • Entitlement
  • Unchecked political power
  • Unconstitutional proposals
  • Sex scandals
  • International interference
  • Leaks
  • FBI investigations

This list could go on and on – potentially without end – but that’s old news by now. The left latches onto their torches and the right (specifically, the populist right) latches onto theirs and the grand political wheel of finger pointing, demonizing and burying the opponent spins out of control. A lot of people believe that Donald Trump is the obvious wildcard in this election because he is a loud, brash, unapologetic outsider. Are you ready to have your mind blown? That’s actually not the case at all. In reality, Hillary Clinton is the wildcard. Think about it: Bernie Sanders tapped into a populist, frustrated and angry left. Thousands upon thousands of people attended his rallies. Hell, people practically worshiped the guy. He tapped into the anger and frustration of people on the left who felt let down by the system as well as by their leaders and he brought in countless people who weren’t terribly interested in traditional politics at all. At times it looked like people were attending the greatest rock show ever produced at his rallies.

Sound familiar?

With very different policy points, it all sounds an awful lot like the rise of Donald Trump. Trump struck a chord with an entirely different population of folks than Sanders, but they share the same kind of frustration as the Sanders supporters. They feel that the system has failed them and that they finally have a chance to flip a big ol’ middle finger at Washington. He fills arenas with supporters, some of whom border on manic. They hang on to every word he utters and they take every opportunity to tell the political system that they’ve had enough of their shit. He has brought in countless people who didn’t identify as Republicans or Democrats or even independents. They were just pissed off and they needed someone to carry the mantle for them. Trump was winning to be that guy.

Good or bad, THAT would have actually made sense in some strange way: The angry, frustrated and alienated left versus the angry, frustrated and alienated right in a head to head battle of pure populism. It would have been the ultimate convergence of a political shit storm and it would have produced the love child of a severely ailing political system as our next President, regardless of the winner.

But that didn’t happen.

The angry populists forgot one thing: THIS system is about strategy, planning, weirdly drawn districts, a solid ground game, political favors, lobbying, corporations, and nod-and-wink moments between the political elite. In other words, the wildcard this time is Hillary Clinton and her 40+ years of perfecting the minute details of the election process as it stands today. While Sanders filled coliseums, Clinton targeted key donors, pivotal districts and big-time influential supporters. While Sanders created such a frenzy that people were getting his likeness tattooed on their bodies, Clinton was making sure she left no stone unturned across the primary map, particularly in the early primaries where momentum can make or break a campaign. She had the giant machine that meshed perfectly with the gears that have been in place for decades – or perhaps even longer. She had the sheer political muscle to squash a populist uprising within her own party with relative ease. The GOP had 16 other guys who thought the same thing, but they couldn’t figure out how to rally behind just one of them, thus they quickly, and unceremoniously, failed.

In another odd twist that could only accompany the 2016 election, the Libertarian Party decided to play it safe and nominate their 2012 candidate, Gary Johnson, who garnered just under 1% of the popular vote the last time around and an 11th hour Libertarian and liberal Republican governor as a hopeless means to bring in folks from both sides. In other words the “Party of Principle” tried to lure us into their tent with a freaking vanilla milkshake. Not the good kind of milkshake that makes your heart happy, but the bland kind that you have to get because the other milkshake machine with the really good flavor is broken.

What all of this means is that we have a massive number of people in this country who are fed up, but they underestimated the power of the savvy political elite Clinton wildcard. In Bernie Sanders, he simply had to bear the brunt of being swept away early because of the primary calendar. Despite his experience and a lifetime of being a politician, he was squashed like an annoying little gnat. The messenger was old, but the socialist-populist message was still figuring out its way in American politics. It’s like a baby that’s still in need if diaper changes and is absolutely no match for the well oiled and well connected Clinton machine. With Donald Trump, we have a political puppy who eats the couch when you’re not home and poops under the dining room table. The nationalist-populist message is there, but it’s often ill formed and poorly communicated. On both sides, we have BIG numbers of people who are frustrated and angry and they’re just looking for different ways to ease that pain. The problem here is that anger and frustration alone don’t win elections. Our electoral process was intentionally designed to avoid the wide swinging whims of the day. If either of these messages fully form down the road, they may very well start to shape future elections. Granted, Trump still has a chance in this one, but realistically, that chance is slim because Clinton has known from day one how to wrap up the electoral map and she has the organization and connections to execute it.

So now, on the eve of the election, we have the one surviving populist “backlash candidate” in Donald Trump and one candidate who unexpectedly took on the role of the wildcard in a career politician – Hillary Clinton. I honestly can’t think of a more fitting way to summarize the circus that is the 2016 Presidential election.

Medical Marijuana is Reducing Prescription Drug Use and Corporations are Angry

If you’re looking for an example of the misguided nature of big government, the drug war and corporatism, look no further than the medical marijuana. In a new article from The Washington Post, research has shown that prescriptions for painkillers and anti-anxiety medication are down in states where medical marijuana is an option. Guess who’s fighting it? The pharma industry, of course.

So, where does that put us now? We have a natural product that is inexpensive and easy to grow.  Solid scientific research shows people are helped significantly by it, from pain to anxiety to nausea to cancer treatment and much more, yet pharma corporations are lobbying the government in an attempt to keep it illegal. Ensuring that it remains illegal feeds the drug war which feeds our appetite for big government. There might not be a better example of our current state of government than this. Corporations have the power to lobby the government to create laws that benefit the corporations. The government buys in to it because they can grow and retain power over free thinking adults and feed the prison industry. The prison industry then grows as we continue to incarcerate people for minor drug crimes. This keeps the prison industry churning along, so THEY also lobby to continue the war on drugs so they can keep their facilities full and keep the payments coming in. It’s a dysfunctional Lion King movie where the screwed up circle of life is finally complete.medical

This is not an endorsement of marijuana use at all. That’s a personal decision for adults to make. This is an endorsement of keeping the government out of our lives and stopping corporations from determining policies that affect you and I.  A link to the article is shown below – please have a look and let me know what you think.

 

Source:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/07/13/one-striking-chart-shows-why-pharma-companies-are-fighting-legal-marijuana/