As television station KBAKreported last Wednesday, a pair of doctors at an urgent care clinic in Bakersfield held a press event during which they calledfor the reopening of the countyand discountedthe threat represented by COVID-19. In this single press conference, theurgent care doctorsDan Erickson and Artin Massihimanaged to present not onlyhorrendous distortions of the data, but to make additional arguments that are already being amplified bythe media and turned into talking points forthe right.
First, the pair suggested that America isnt doing quarantine correctlybecause its isolating healthy people.”When someone has measles you quarantine them. We’ve never seen the healthy, where you take those without disease and without symptoms and lock them in your home. So some of these things from what we’ve studied from immunology and microbiology aren’t really meshing with what we know as people of scientific minds who read this stuff,” said Erickson.
To reach this conclusion, Ericksonwho apparentlytooka class inthis stuff at some pointpivotedright past the whole point of the statewide lockdown, which is that we dont know whos sick. (Thats the outcome ofinsufficient testing.) The point of social distancing guidelines is not to reduce transmission from those who have been confirmed to beinfected with the novel coronavirus, its to protect against the spread of the virus from infected people who have not been identified. In at least one study, 80% of all cases in a givenarea originated from people who did not know they were infected at the time they spread the disease.
Next, the two doctors suggested that the reason they were coming forward was because people with heart disease, people with cancer, hypertension and various things are choosing not to come into urgent care forfear of COVID-19. This is obviously true. Deaths from heart disease are clearly up since the pandemic began, and not just in the United States. Some of this comes explicitly from patients who are, just as they stated, afraid that coming into the doctors office will expose them to COVID-19. Those potential patientshave good reason for this fear. National stories about the lack of protective gear, the high rate of infection among medical professionals, and stories about aerosol transmission in virus-laden facilities have all contributed to the idea that visiting any healthcare facilityis taking a huge gamble.
Also, as doctors have learned more about how COVID-19 operates, it has become clear that heart issues are the No. 1 comorbidity factor. In New York, 57% of those who died also had hypertension. There havebeen a significant number of patients who have apparently recovered from COVID-19, then died soon afterward from heart attack or stroke. Anyone who believes they are experiencinga heart attack should call an ambulance or proceed to the emergency room (not an urgent care). But every patient canexpectto weigh the cost of making a less-than-emergency visit.
But reallyits the numbers where these two excel, and its the numbers that are getting unwarranted press. See if you can spot the issue with this statement:
“In Kern County, we’ve tested5,213 people and we have 340 positive COVID cases. Well, that’s 6.5%of the population, said Erickson. If you havent spotted the problem already, he went on:”So if you look at Californiathese numbers are from yesterdaywe have 33,865 COVID cases out of a total of 280,900 total tested; that’s 12% of Californians were positive for COVID.” But Erickson wasnt done.We’ve seen 1,227 deaths in the state of California with a possible incidents or prevalence of 4.7 million, said Erickson. That means you have a 0.03 chance of dying from COVID-19 in the state of California.
Its hard to know where to begin. What Erickson has done in his astounding demonstration of basic mathematical ignorance is to take the percentage of positive tests in the stateand equate that with the number of people who have the disease. Many media outlets have treated statements from this amazing press event as if Erickson andMassihi had conducted over 5,000 tests. Thats not what theyre saying. Theyre just quoting the number of existing tests and positive resultsat a time when almost all of those tests have taken place on patients demonstrating strong symptoms.
Its as if you went into the cancer ward at Johns Hopkins and determined that 12% of Americans have lymphoma. Then Erickson has divided the number of deaths across the state of California, and divided by 12% of the entire state population to come up with a 0.03% case fatality rate. So everyone back to work! This thing is no big deal!
Even more amazingly, this is Ericksons next sentence:I also wanted to mention that 96% of people in California who get COVID recover. What happens to the other 4%? Its apparently impossible to know.
Right now in New York City, 0.15% of the total population is already dead from COVID-19. Not 0.15% of those with symptoms. Not 0.15% of those infected. 0.15% of everybody in New York City. Is dead. Right now. Because of this disease.
And while New York certainly waited too long to lock down, the citys response to the outbreak once itwas underway has been very good when it comes to preparing additional medical facilities and making sure that every COVID-19 patientalong with patients for every other kind of serious illnessstill had a bed, an ICU, or a ventilator when needed. Those numbers in New York City are not there because people are getting good treatment. The numbers are therein spite of what has proven year in and year out to be among the best healthcare delivery systems in the nation.
Despite the staggering examples of innumeracy and pure misdirection in the statements from Erickson, both social media and national media have been repeating both the 12% infection rate and 0.03% death rate as if they provide some value to the national conversation. They dont. In fact, theyre so actively harmfulthat they are a genuine threat.
So are Erickson andMassihi. If you do need to go to an urgent care, dont make it Accelerated Urgent Care in Bakersfield, California. The doctors there clearly either werent paying attention during their required statistics courses or are deliberately misrepresenting information. Either way, at this momenttheyre doing immense damage.