About Those Models

An acquaintance on Facebook posted and article from FoxNews today, Meet the former NYT reporter who is challenging the coronavirus narrative.

The point of his Facebook post was to suggest that, although he was sorry about what’s happening in the big cities like New York, it is obvious now that the rest of the country has overreacted to the hype from the media and we should now relax our social distancing and reopen the country in those areas that are not affected like New York was.

You know, basically the Trump narrative.

In the article, we hear the usual arguments about the economy suffering and essentially wondering if the “cure is worse than the problem”. The subject of the article focuses on the modeling of the virus which has estimated the numbers of death under varying conditions. He points out how wrong they have been.

What Berenson is promoting isn’t coronavirus denialism, or conspiracy theories about plots to curb liberties. Instead what Berenson is claiming is simple: the models guiding the response were wrong and that it is becoming clearer by the day.


There is no doubt that the estimates from the models are changing. That would be expected as actual data is plugged into the model as we go, rather than estimated data. I definitely think there are some questions to be answered by Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx who gave us the devastating estimate of 100,000 to 240,000 deaths, at the low end.

They told us that this was the number even if we continued doing all of the social distancing measures we were already doing. They hoped that by some good fortune and maybe putting the accelerator down on our efforts, we could end with lower numbers.

At the same time, they told us that if we had not taken the mitigation steps that we did, it would have resulted in 2,000,000+ deaths.

Of course, President Trump used that opportunity to claim credit for doing a great job because he and his team (mostly he) were going to keep the deaths lower than 200,000 when it would have been over 2,000,000! Never mind that just 30 days earlier he was telling us not to worry, the number would be near zero….all of the sudden, under 200,000 deaths would mean he did a great job. Sheesh.

But even then, it was speculated that maybe they were even inflating the numbers with the 100,000 to 240,000 (that’s a really wide range) figures, knowing that it would be substantially less, but realizing that they could really look like heroes if it came in well under 100,000. When I say “they realized”, I mainly mean Trump, but I don’t discount the possibility that Fauci and Birx might go along with it in order to have Trump buy into the seriousness of the situation and, heck, it would make them look great as well.

Then, the story came out in the Washington Post that increased the speculation:

Leading disease forecasters, whose research the White House used to conclude 100,000 to 240,000 people will die nationwide from the coronavirus, were mystified when they saw the administration’s projection this week.

The experts said they don’t challenge the numbers’ validity but that they don’t know how the White House arrived at them.

Washington Post


So now, they have revised the the estimates down to around 61,000 deaths due to more actual data. We have now ranged from over 2,000,000 then to 100,000 to 240,000 then down to 81,000, and now 61,000. It’s easy to see why people would be questioning the models, that’s for sure.

But the thing is, models are only as good as the data assumptions that you put into them. And the problem with these models is that we had very little reliable data to work with.

And why is that?

Because of our failure to conduct a competent level of testing (or even any testing for way too long). We had no real numbers to plug into the models. The only thing the modelers could work with were all of the varying numbers from around the world. And the problem with that is there was no consistent standard for the testing and reporting. Of course the models are not going to be of a high level of confidence with the limited amount of actual, real, verifiable data. You know the old truth, “garbage in, garbage out.”

As the actual data came in, the models were adjusted. Whether the numbers were actually substantially different or whether the numbers were actually inflated in order to make it appear that a great job was done in the end, we do not know. It will be interesting to investigate that avenue when this is all over.

But here’s the bottom line…our reactions to this crises were not hysterical or wrong…based on what we knew.

The governors and the people rationally did the only thing we could do, lacking the real information to make decisions on.

All we could do was play to the worst case scenario.

Everything Trump and his minions were telling us proved to be wrong on a daily basis, as we watched the numbers wildly climb higher and higher with Trump still claiming it was under control. Watching the situation in Italy going completely off the rails for not taking it seriously enough, soon enough. Watching the virus spread from country to country, state to state, county to county.

We were completely blind to the full extent of the problem. We had no idea what it was going to do. Because there was no testing and we had no idea how widespread it was.

We did the only rational thing in such a situation. We learned from other countries that did not take it serious, and we even learned from the Spanish Flu from a century ago where some communities took it serious, used social distancing and still suffered many losses, and other communities, like Philadelphia did not take it serious and held parades, which resulted in devastatingly way more loss.

We still do not have a full picture of what this looks like throughout the country.

Let’s not forget that it was only a little over a month ago that Trump told us not to worry, it was under control, there were only 15 cases in the entire nation and that would soon go down to near zero. Today, there are 21 confirmed cases in my county alone, and we are considered to be doing very well. But we have seen how quickly only 15 confirmed cases for the entire country exploded to over 460,000+ in a little over 30 days. So now were are supposed to be comfortable opening up the counties like mine, where we are “doing good” with only 21? What sense does that make?

We still need the testing. That is the only way to finally get a clear understanding of what we are dealing with. Without it, we have been behind this thing all along, desperately chasing it. We need to get in front of it. And without a vaccine or a proven, effective “cure”, we should not relax any social distancing efforts until we have very, very extensive testing.

President Trump seems to be signalling that we’ve had enough testing. He states that we’ve tested more than anyone, but on a per ca pita basis, that is no where near the truth. We have still not done near enough testing to have a handle on it.

“We’re now conducting well over 100,000 coronavirus tests per day,” Trump said. “It’s over 100,000 tests a day. And these are accurate tests, and they’re moving rapidly, which is more than any other country in the world, both in terms of the raw number and also on a per capita basis, the most.”

NPR Fact Check

What is the clearest indicator that we have not yet gotten in front of the testing? The confirmed numbers of positive tests and the confirmed numbers of deaths.

In theory, there are way more people out there with the virus that have not been tested. So, as we ramp up the number of tests we complete, you would think that the mortality rate would consistently and substantially drop.

But what has actually happened?

On March 28, I checked the numbers. We had 116,505 confirmed cases and 1,925 deaths, for a rate of death of 1.7%. The thought was that since we were only testing the very serious cases with people who were showing all of the main symptoms, the mortality rate would clock in higher than it would if we were doing more extensive testing and found all of the positive cases who were not having the more serious symptoms (or none at all).

The idea was that 1.7% was on the high end and as we tested more and more, that number would fall.

Today, just 12 days later (and after the Trump team has claimed we are doing all of the testing needed and more than anyone else anywhere), we are at 461,437 confirmed cases and 16,478 deaths…a mortality rate of 3.6%!

That rate seems to be going in the wrong direction, which is a clear indication that either we have not done near enough testing or this thing is every bit as deadly as our worst fears.

Our biggest mistake with this crisis is that we wasted over 2 months in not preparing for it and especially not conducting the testing in order to know how to fight it. It seems to me that we are heading into making the same mistake with all of the talk about “opening” large parts of the country even without the testing. This is incredibly foolish without a vaccine or a cure.

And yet, here we go again.

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About Steve Wood 257 Articles
I am a husband, a father, a small business owner, a veteran, and a Citizen of the United States. As my avatar depicts, I believe The People need to relearn and focus on the basic principles that our Republic was built upon. My contributions here will be geared toward that end. Please join me in rational, civil discourse.