The COVID-19 epidemic is taking the world by storm, and the importance of accurate analysis cannot be overstated. Biostatistical models will affect our epidemiological understanding for decades to come, as this is the first modern epidemic on this scale. However, any conclusions drawn from current statistics could be suspect, as there appear to be widespread flaws in reporting and statistics.
Number of Cases
According to Timothy Russell of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, it could be difficult to trust the number of cases that countries have reported: “People are transmitting while they’re walking around and don’t know it. It quickly overburdens every health care system.” The difficulty of accurately tracking the number of cases comes from asymptomatic carriers. Though it is not uncommon for a person to carry an illness without presenting symptoms, it is uncommon to not track these cases. Due to the low number of tests, many countries are electing to only test symptomatic cases, which is leading to a massively under-reported number of cases. This indicates that the true number of infections since the outbreak began will be impossible to accurately estimate.
Number of Deaths
The number of deaths reported by countries is perhaps less prone to misreporting and manipulation thanks to the clear symptoms and understanding of how the virus can cause deaths. However, this data has limits in use due to the fact that deaths only represent a past point in the disease’s spread. The effects of social distancing and other mitigation measures should be seen as the death rates begin to fall, but prioritizing the effects of the disease and our response is critical.
Rate of Spread
The speed of the virus’s spread can be difficult to understand, as it relies upon a variety of factors. Because the rate of spread appears to be so rapid, it is difficult to create an accurate model of the spread. However, Mexico has utilized its own internal model of the virus’ spread in order to craft a response. The severity of their own model may have dictated the effective nature of their response, which has resulted in the country’s mere 2,143 reported cases. Though, once again, limited testing is a factor t consider.
According to the study that Timothy Russel co-authored, Australia, Israel, Norway, and Chile have all approached a 100% reporting rate for their disease, indicating a very full-bodied and diligent response by their individual response teams. Though the effectiveness of these countries is likely the result of a smaller population or greater availability of test kits, it will be important to examine their responses in the aftermath of this global pandemic.