One of my truly transformative pandemic reads was Hans Rosling’s “Factfulness.” In fairness, my wife bought it for me as a 2019 Christmas present but it wasn’t until shelter-in-place that I had the time to read it. There is one passage that I continue to come back to, particularly when bombarded by COVID-19 numbers:
“Never leave a number all by itself. Never believe that one number on its own can be meaningful. If you are offered one number, always ask for at least one more. Something to compare it with.”
When presenting the epidemic curve of the novel coronavirus in Los Angeles, each week can be compared to the one prior, or the one after. Further, because each number is a daily rate per 100,000 population, it has a second number already baked into it – and a way to compare it to other regions.
When tabulating the raw numbers (which I download directly from LA County Department of Health), I work one Tuesday at a time since this is the day that the County reports numbers to the State. This allows me to compare week over week as Rosling has suggested above.
Working through October, I was relatively unimpressed: 11.04, 12.45, 13.49, 12.66 new daily cases per 100,000. Of course these rates are far from the 7.0 new daily cases average that the County needs to drop a risk tier – but I had known we were heading in the wrong direction. What in the world was the cell phone alert that we got this week all about?
That’s when this week’s number hit me like a ton of bricks: 19.42
The last time we saw a rate this high was August 4th, when the County was descending the backside of the July 4th surge. The first time we have seen a number that high? June 30th which was on the ascent to our July peak.
A picture is worth a thousand words – but I think here just two will suffice.