When politicians cite Covid-19 statistics, they may be wrong – it doesn't mean the numbers are

The statistician and writer Nate Silver said: “Numbers have no way of speaking for themselves… we imbue them with meaning.” During this crisis, a lot of meaning has been imbued by people who want the numbers to support their argument. This may include making comparisons with Sweden to say a strict lockdown is unnecessary, or pointing to rising infection rates to demand a zero-Covid strategy. The frailty of some of these numbers is now being revealed: the accumulating Covid-19 death count in England dropped in mid-August by about 5,000, as the overall figure now doesn’t include anyone who died more than 28 days after a positive test. But being just six years older also doubles your risk: it goes up, like some lethal form of compound interest, at around 12% for each year of age.The spread of the virus at the start of the epidemic showed how difficult it was to grasp this idea of exponential increase, but it may help us understand why the current rise in cases is not being followed by extra hospital admissions or deaths. It is vital that we don’t just count cases, but look at their ages, and the latest report from Public Health England reveals the highest rate of positive tests is in the 15-44 age-group. As a community, we require increasingly intensive coronavirus surveillance, and rapid and proportionate local action, combined with maximum efforts to open schools and get the economy moving, while also protecting the extremely vulnerable. And as individuals, we all have to face the fact that this is not going to go away in a hurry: even if a vaccine eventually arrives, it may not afford complete protection and may need repeating.

Read more at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/aug/31/politicians-covid-19-statistics-statisticians