COVID-19 data lives up to the reputation of ‘statistics’

Fort Bend County reports 805 active, confirmed COVID-cases as of April 23, among a population of 840,000.

That number would be even lower, 759, if one takes into account the COVID-19 related deaths so far at 653, as reported by the Texas Department of State Health Services instead of 597, reported by the Fort Bend County Health Department.

This means less than one person (0.8) in 1,000 is with active COVID-19 infection.

This is in keeping with the statewide trend where the Texas Department of State Health Services says “COVID has plateaued. Go get vaccinated, it’s never been easier. Vaccines are saving lives and making Texas safer. “

“Safely getting back to touchdowns, buzzer beaters and home runs takes teamwork and the vaccine. COVID vaccines give us the freedom to safely tailgate, cheer and sometimes cry for our favorite teams. Get the vax, it’s never been easier.”

Time was when healthcare officials were sitting idle in COVID-19 testing sites as fewer and fewer people showed up for tests.

A similar situation is now emerging in vaccination sites so much so healthcare officials are literally begging people above 16 to walk up to a hospital, pharmacy or vaccination hub and get vaccinated.

Another anecdotal evidence that the spread is slowing down comes from the reported new cases in Fort Bend County, which was 11,871 in December 2020; in January 2021, it was 11,934. In February, it dropped to 6,132, in March to 4,462 and 1,715 in April (as of April 20).

The intensity of the spread of COVID-19 has slowed down to such an extent that Fort Bend County Health Authority says, “Due to insufficient testing numbers, Fort Bend County HHS is unable to calculate a positivity rate that is representative of the level of community spread occurring in Fort Bend County.”

The Texas Medical Center has stopped updating the dashboard daily, saying “TMC continues to believe that data on positivity rate, vaccination rate, hospitalizations, etc. are important to supporting our community in managing its response to COVID-19. However, at this time, we are seeing limited changes over the course of a week and believe that week over week data reporting provides the necessary information to the community. We stand ready to restart daily reporting should the situation require it.”

But, some of those closely monitoring the COVID-19 may disagree with this sober assessment because the state also reports about 9,000 “probable cases” in Fort Bend.

Texas uses the probable case definition adopted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “A person who has either tested positive through an antigen test or has a combination of symptoms and a known exposure to someone with COVID-19 without a more likely diagnosis.”

The “probable” cases again are not a universal standard because many counties do not report “probable cases.”

Harris County does not include “probable cases” in its data set.

This omission adds a twist to the estimated “active cases.”

According to DSHS, Harris County has 10,442 active cases (estimated) and Fort Bend has 10,177 active cases (estimated) as of April 23.

This reflects a comparison of apples to oranges because Harris County’s estimated active cases does not include “probable” cases, while Fort Bend County’s estimates includes “probable” cases.

Estimated Recoveries

DSHS uses the following method to estimate the number of recovered patients for local jurisdictions that do not provide their own estimates:

Identify total confirmed and probable cases reported 14 and 32 days ago; Subtract COVID-19 fatalities.

Estimate that 20% of living patients reported 32 days ago were hospitalized and have now recovered.

Estimate that 80% of living patients reported 14 days ago were not hospitalized and have now recovered.

Recovery time for hospitalized patients is about 32 days, and recovery time for non-hospitalized patients is about 14 days

Finally, the number of COVID-19 related deaths in Fort Bend County continues to differ from the state data.

For example, on Dec. 31, 2020, Fort Bend reported 358 fatalities and the state reported 429.

The County reported 435 deaths as of Jan.31 and the state reported 535.

On Feb. 26, county reported 496 deaths and the state showed 605 deaths.

On March 1, the county numbers stood at 503 against the state’s total of 610 deaths for Fort Bend.

On April 1, the county reported 579 and the state reported 647.

As far back as in July of 2020, Fort Bend Independent noted the discrepancy in the fatalities because on July 27, 2020, the county dashboard showed 90 deaths and the state showed 120 death and asked The Fort Bend County Health Authority for an explanation.

The response was : “We cannot speak to how another agency reports its data .... (the county conducts) a careful review of each death report provided by hospitals, medical records, laboratory reports, and medical examiner’s reports before ruling that a death is COVID19 related.”

The state DSHS says: “Deaths for which COVID-19 is listed as a direct cause of death on the death certificate. A medical certifier, usually a doctor, determines the cause(s) of death. DSHS does not include deaths of people who had COVID-19 but died of an unrelated cause. Fatalities are reported by where the person lived as listed on the death certificate.”

So, both the county and the state maintain that their numbers are right.

One may never know which is right and probably, both are wrong.

“Lies, damned lies, and statistics” is a phrase describing the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments, and this phrase was popularized by Mark Twain.

Now, you know why politicians say that they base their decisions on the pandemic, using “science and data.”