Where are the deaths?

Our current model of the pandemic is that if the number of people testing positive for the viral genome increases, deaths will increase.   Could the model be wrong?  We’re about to find out.  The number of cases diagnosed daily has markedly increased recently in Georgia and Florida.

The number of hospitalizations for illness due to the virus (e.g. the old meaning of Covid19)  in Miami Dade county rose from 607 on 15 June to 1,062 on 28 June. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/coronavirus/article243854907.html Certainly deaths are sure to show a similar increase.  Aren’t they?

Well so far deaths are falling as diagnosed cases are rising. https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/96dd742462124fa0b38ddedb9b25e429.  has data through 28 June (a Sunday, where reporting is likely to be slow).

If anyone knows how to get these graphics into a WordPress post, please let me know (just write a comment).  Every time I try my post collapses and nothing shows up.  The WordPress Gods must be angry with me.  The links will get you there however, but even then you’ll have to root around to find what I’m talking about.  Apologies.

There is a new WordPress editor out, and I’ll try it to see if it helps.

Florida is particularly good to study because every Friday they tally the number of cases with a positive antibody test for the virus for the past week.  These are people who have recovered, and who likely have never been very sick.  There would be little reason to test someone hospitalized with COVID19 for antibodies.  Here’s a link — http://ww11.doh.state.fl.us/comm/_partners/action/report_archive/serology/serology_latest.pdf.

It boils down to the fact that about 35% of 51,982 newly diagnosed cases of infection in the two weeks ending 26 June are really positive antibody tests.

Unfortunately Florida doesn’t have available a statewide number for the total hospitalized cases of COVID19 — like Massachusetts– https://www.mass.gov/doc/covid-19-dashboard-june-29-2020/download  — but with a population more (6.9 million) than  Miami Dade metropolitan area (5.5 million), there were only 760 cases statewide.

Now on to Georgia, which I’ve been following because they were one of the first states to lift restrictions.  As of 3PM today 29 June,  the 7 day moving average of daily deaths was 15 (this number is for 16 June, because Georgia doesn’t regard its numbers as solid until two weeks have passed).  On 25 April, the day the lockdown was partially lifted, the 7 day moving average of daily deaths was 41.

The number of cases in Georgia diagnosed (using both antibodies to the virus and the genome) has risen markedly in the past 2 weeks. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to find what percentage of the positive tests in Georgia are due to antibodies to the virus.

Both Florida and Georgia are so typical for what docs face all the time.  The data you have is never quite the data you’d like to have.

Now the time from hospitalization with COVID19 to death is unknown, but it’s unlikely to be greater than a month. However, for both states, given the rise in diagnosed cases, we had better see a rise in deaths, or something is seriously wrong with our model.

Has this ever happened before?  You bet.  The nationwide rise in obesity over the past several decades was predicted to have awful effects on mortality.  Yet life expectancy continued increasing.  For details see a copy of an old post after the ****

So I’ll revisit these states in two weeks or so to see if deaths have risen.  This post is long enough, but it’s worthwhile inserting two pieces of data from family and friends.  Family spies tell me that yuppies in Brooklyn are partying in the street without any protection.  Similarly, a friend from Baltimore notes  “Not many people are wearing masks in Baltimore or Washington, particularly individuals at high risk.”

Although Trump’s medical pronouncements are rightly ridiculed, I find it improbable that the bunch described above take what he says as holy writ and that he’s responsible for their behavior.

We are currently witnessing a massive social and medical experiment which would never get past an institutional review board.



Something is still wrong with the model

We’re getting fatter and fatter as a nation and with fatness comes diabetes, hypertension, elevated lipids, strokes, heart attacks and death.  That’s the model.  There’s something wrong with it however, as people in the USA are living longer and longer, and deaths are dropping. The following is one of the first posts I wrote on the blog and it got a lot of play.

https://luysii.wordpress.com/2009/08/20/something-is-wrong-with-the-model/ (I’ll reproduce it here at the end of this post)

What’s happened since?  The following year the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported a one month dip in expectancy to 77 years and 11 months.  Last week the CDC announced that because of a computer programming error the dip didn’t happen.   They also announced new data for the most ‘recent’ year available (2009 not 2010) and life expectancy continues to increase (now 78 years and two months for a child born today).  This is probably not a statistical fluke.  The data is based on death certificates. Why in the world we don’t have data for 2010 yet and why it took 14+ months for the CDC to collate the data for 2009 I leave to your imagination.

The absolute number of deaths  dropped by 36,000.  Now docs misdiagnose a lot of things but death isn’t one of them.  So my guess is that life expectancy is even higher, because the CDC is probably using the numbers the census counts rather than the numbers of people who are actually here (e.g. undocumented immigrants etc. etc.).

As noted earlier, one self serving explanation is that medical care is just getting better and better, and certainly it is, but it is very unevenly distributed, which was one of the points in passing ObamaCare.  More likely, in my opinion, is that obesity just isn’t as bad as its cracked up to be.  This goes against years and years of experience as a practicing physician.  Next time you visit a friend in the hospital, look at what’s lying in the beds — you will find the percentage of really heavy people much higher than the people walking the streets.  How many times have I seen an obese diabetic hypertensive, hyperlipidemic patient improve all 3 (and presumably their risk of premature death) by losing weight.   Yet facts must be faced — we’re not dropping like flies even though we’re getting fatter as a nation.  Any thoughts?


HERE’s the old post

Back in grad school when a theory came up with a wrong prediction, we all clapped hands because it showed us exactly where a new theory was needed, and just how it failed. No casting about for something to work on. A program that crashes intermittently is very hard to fix. Once you’ve found input that consistently makes it crash the job becomes much easier.

The Center for Disease Control released new data for 2007 (based on 90% of all USA death certificiates) showing that mortality rates dropped again (by over 2%) to 760/100,000 population. It’s been dropping for the past 8 years, and viewed longer term is half of what it was 60 years ago. Interestingly death rates from heart disease dropped a staggering 5% and even cancer dropped 2%.

But the populace is fat and getting fatter. This has been going on for 30 years. You can Google NHANES for the gory details, but the following should be enough. [ Science vol. 299 pp. 853 – 855, 856 – 858 ’03 ] The data from a recent NHANES (’99 – ’00) shows that the percentage of obese (as opposed just overweight) increased from 23% in the surveys from ’88 to ’94 to 31%. This is based on the body mass index (BMI). Someone 6′ 1″ would have to weigh 225 pounds to be obese.

We are told to be prepared for an epidemic of diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated blood lipids because of this. Every doc has seen blood sugar drop, blood pressure lowered, lipids come down in people with any/all of the above when they are able to lose a significant amount of weight. These diseases are significant only if they kill people, which they certainly seem to do in my experience. The next time you’re visiting a friend in the hospital, look at what’s lying in the beds. Very likely, many more than 31% of them are obese.

So why are death rates dropping and people living longer? Something must be wrong with the model — it’s pretty hard to quarrel with the data as being inadequate. Certainly the increased incidence of obesity should have produced something by this time (it started 30 years ago).

Well, the self serving answer for the drug developers is that their drugs are better. MDs would like to think it’s due to better care. Possibly. Here’s some detail.

#1: More people are exercising than they used to. How many joggers and walkers did you see on the streets 20, 30 years ago?

#2: Fewer people are smoking. Forget lung cancer (if you can). The big risk for smokers is premature vascular disease. Normally we all have carbon monoxide in our blood (it comes from the breakdown of hemoglobin). [ Brit. Med. J. vol. 296 pp. 78 – 79 ’88 ] Natural carbon monoxide production would lead to a carboxyhemoglobin level of .4 – .7%, but normal levels in nonsmokers in urban areas are 1 – 2%. Cigarette smoke contains 4% carbon monoxide, so smokers have levels of 5 – 6%. This can’t be good for their blood vessels.

#3: Doctors know more than they did. My brother is a very competent internist. He took over the practice of a similarly competent internist after his very untimely many death years ago. Naturally he got all the medical records on the patients. He found letters (now over 25 years old) from the late MD to his patients informing them of their lab results, and assuring them that their cholesterol was just fine at 250 mg%.

#4: The drugs are better. In addition they may be working in ways that we have yet to fathom. Consider the statins — their effect on vascular disease is far greater than their effect on blood lipids (cholesterol, triglyerides) — particularly when compared to other agents that lower blood lipids to the same extent.

Any further thoughts?

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  • Jay Pandit  On June 30, 2020 at 10:02 am

    The reduced death rate could be due to the fact that most of the new infections are in younger people. I read that the average age of a COVID positive person in Florida now is below 40. That may also explain the discrepancy between infections and deaths in India.
    On another note, it is ridiculous that the results of the antibody test are being lumped together with the RT-PCR test, and if it is true that 35% of the increase in positives in Florida is due to the antibody test data, then we should not expect an increase in deaths anyway.

  • luysii  On June 30, 2020 at 11:45 am

    The death rates are definitely less than a few months ago. A younger age distribution of he infected is plausible. Most old people now know to self-isolate. That being the case, if fewer and fewer are dying, are the intense lockdown measures still indicated?

    • Anon  On June 30, 2020 at 10:12 pm

      What is your point? You want the ICU and hospitals fill up with people with a deadly infectious disease?

      • luysii  On July 1, 2020 at 12:33 am

        Anon — I certainly don’t want that, but that is what the model currently in use by just about everyone says WILL happen. Events in the next few weeks will tell us if the predictions of this model are correct. If not there is something wrong with the model.

  • Wilhelm Cody  On July 6, 2020 at 7:22 pm

    Look not just at the number of cases, which could be increasing as testing increases, but also the percentage of results that are positive case, which is also increasing. That percentage might be constant or declining if people being tested now have similar symptoms as those a month ago. The population being tested may have changed.

    Here is another option to be explored. Has contact tracing been scaled up enough that more of the people being tested are now close contacts with someone who is know to be positive? Are we thereby catching a higher proportion of those infected, not skewed to those showing strong symptoms? Is this upward trend an artifact of a successful program to track the virus through contact tracing, ostensibly underway in many jurisdictions? The result might be an increase in identified infected cases while the number of actual cases is decreasing. The result is fewer deaths with more cases.

  • luysii  On July 7, 2020 at 9:27 pm

    It al depends on what you (and the press, and departments of public health) mean by a case. I’m hopefully going to post about this tomorrow. Spoiler: It is NOT what you mean when you say I have a bad case of the flu

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