The usefulness of reporting hospitalization and death rates has been called into question in recent days.
For two years, coronavirus case counts and hospitalizations have been widely used barometers of the pandemic’s march across the world.
But the omicron wave is making a mess of the usual statistics, forcing news organizations to rethink the way they report such figures.
“It’s just a data disaster,” said Katherine Wu, staff writer who covers COVID-19 for The Atlantic magazine.
The number of case counts soared over the holidays, an expected development given the emergence of a variant more transmissible than its predecessors.
Yet these counts only reflect what is reported by health authorities. They do not include most people who test themselves at home, or are infected without even knowing about it. Holidays and weekends also lead to lags in reported cases.
If you could add all those numbers up — and you can’t — case counts would likely be substantially higher.
For that reason, The Associated Press has recently told its editors and reporters to avoid emphasizing case counts in stories about the disease. That means, for example, no more stories focused solely on a particular country or state setting a one-day record for number of cases, because that claim has become unreliable.
Throughout the media, there has been more caution in use of official case counts.
An NBC News story on Monday about the skyrocketing number of COVID cases relied on a one-week average of case counts. A Tuesday story simply referred to a “tidal wave” of cases.
During its coverage of a Senate hearing with health experts on Tuesday, the case counts CNN flashed onscreen were two-week averages. MSNBC used a variety of measurements, including a listing of the five states with highest reported numbers over the past three days.
On its website’s “Guide to the Pandemic,” The Washington Post used a seven-day average of cases and compared that number to last Tuesday’s, showing a 56% increase. The New York Times used a daily count in an online chart, yet also included a two-week trend in both cases and deaths.
An AP story Saturday by Jennifer Sinco Kelleher and Terry Tang headlined, “Omicron explosion spurs nationwide breakdown of services” was full of statistics from across the United States on hospitalization rates or employees calling out sick from work. The case count metric was not used.
“We definitely wanted people to go a little deeper and be more specific in reporting,” said Josh Hoffner, the news editor who helps oversee AP’s virus coverage.
Many news organizations are debating how best to use statistics now during the omicron surge, Wu said. But there are no easy answers.
“It’s how journalism works,” Wu said. “We need the data. We need to show receipts to readers. But I try to do it carefully.”
Hospitalization and death rates are considered by some to be a more reliable picture of COVID-19′s current impact on society. Yet even the usefulness of those numbers has been called into question in recent days. In many cases, hospitalizations are incidental: there are people being admitted for other reasons and are surprised to find they test positive for COVID, said Tanya Lewis, senior editor for health and medicine at Scientific American.
Despite the imperfections, case counts should not be ignored, said Gary Schwitzer, a University of Minnesota School of Public Health instructor and publisher of HealthNewsReview.org, which monitors health coverage in the media.
The numbers illustrate trends, giving a picture of which areas of the country are being hit particularly hard or where the surge may have peaked, he said. They can predict broader societal impacts, like where hospitals are about to be slammed or where there will be worker shortages.
“These are stories that may not be told adequately if only hospitalizations and deaths are emphasized,” Schwitzer said.
That’s a point emphasized in AP’s internal guidance, as well.
“They do have value,” Hoffner said. “We don’t want people to eliminate mention of case counts.”
There are some in public health and journalism who believe the current surge — painful as it is — may augur good news. It could be a sign that COVID-19 is headed toward becoming an endemic disease that people learn to live with, rather than being a disruptive pandemic, wrote David Leonhardt and Ashley Wu in The New York Times.
But if the past two years have taught anything, it’s about the danger in predictions, Lewis said.
“We’ve been surprised time and again,” she said. “We don’t know everything about the course of the pandemic. We still need to be humble and keep an open mind in terms of where things are going.”
Republished with permission from The Associated Press.
Maher: Biden Should Be in ‘a More Ceremonial Role’ – After ‘Not Horrible’ First Year, ‘America Has Lost Its Faith’ in Him
On Friday’s broadcast of HBO’s “Real Time,” host Bill Maher argued Democrats should move President Joe Biden “into a more ceremonial role.” Because while his first year was “Not horrible, certainly better than the alternative,” “for some reason, America has lost its faith in Joe.” And “even when Joe does something good,” like the economy, “he seems to get no credit.”
Maher began by saying, “Democrats must thank President Biden for his great service to America, and then move him into a more ceremonial role.”
He continued, “Joe Biden has been president now for a year and a day. The day was pretty good. But the year? Not horrible, certainly better than the alternative, but for some reason, America has lost its faith in Joe. Sometimes that just happens. A new CBS poll has just over a quarter of Americans saying the country is going in the right direction, and the Quinnipiac poll has Biden’s year one approval rating at 33%, the lowest for any president ever, even Trump. 33%. If he were a movie, he’d be listed as ‘certified rotten.’ Now, of course, he’s not, and what’s gone wrong is certainly not all Joe’s fault, but the hard fact is, even when Joe does something good, he seems to get no credit. Our economy is actually pretty awesome considering what we’ve just been through. Wages are up, workers have more leverage, we avoided a recession, stocks just had their best year since 1995. And yet, only 38% approve of his handling of the economy. This is what happens when you lack passionate defenders, as opposed to Trump, who every day shit the bed, and 90% of Republicans blamed the bed.”
Maher added, “And Biden may well have even further to fall. Because there’s no die-hard Biden base. His is a coalition of the unenthused. … When he first got into office, I told you that Biden was like non-dairy creamer: nobody’s first choice, but he got the job done. And he did get the job done, in 2020, when his nation needed him to beat Trump, and he did. But, fair or not, to most people now, it looks like Joe Biden’s get-up-and-go got up and went.”
Maher further argued that Biden should marry former President Barack Obama so he can be back in the White House and run the country.
Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett
Truckers Required to Show Proof of Vaccination to Enter the Country
The Biden administration will not allow foreign truckers from Mexico or Canada to enter the country unless they provide proof of vaccination against the coronavirus.
Beginning Saturday, all non-citizens must show proof of vaccination at all ports of entry and ferry terminals when trying to enter the country.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said:
Starting on January 22, 2022, the Department of Homeland Security will require that non-U.S. individuals entering the United States via land ports of entry or ferry terminals along our Northern and Southern borders be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and be prepared to show related proof of vaccination.
These updated travel requirements reflect the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to protecting public health while safely facilitating the cross-border trade and travel that is critical to our economy.
Before the new mandate, nonresident essential travelers have been allowed entry into the country regardless of their vaccination status. However, United States officials announced the vaccine mandate in October, hoping to incentivize more travelers to get vaccinated.
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Covid-19 response and the vaccination program at the White House on August 23, 2021, in Washington, DC. (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
The mandate will likely hurt the ongoing supply chain crisis, as unvaccinated truckers traveling from Mexico and Canada will not be allowed entry into the country. The Canadian Trucker Alliance estimates at least 12,000 drivers will not be able to enter the United States due to the mandate.
Canada enforced a similar vaccine requirement for travelers entering its borders on January 15.
Brian Hitchcock, owner of MBH Trucking LLC and interim executive director of the Michigan Trucking Association, expects to lose two-fifths of his revenue due to the United States and Canada’s vaccine mandates. Hitchcock’s drivers travel back and forth from Michigan to Ontario, but only one-sixth of his employees are vaccinated.
“How do you force a mandate on a bunch of truck drivers who have been out there on the front line for 20 months and never asked for anything?” Hitchcock asked. “They were the ones that kept our economy moving and supplies (going), so you never ran out of food.”
Biden’s vaccine mandate will likely hit the automobile manufacturing industry the hardest. Auto Care Association Bill Hanvey warned the vaccination requirement could further strain the supply chain.
In a statement to NBC News, Hanvey said:
Due to the current supply chain issues and chip shortages that the American automotive manufacturers are facing … we believe any additional strains placed on the supply chain have the potential to exacerbate this situation and could cause the demands on both the automotive manufacturers and the aftermarket to rise even further
Doug Betts, president of J.D. Power’s global automotive division, made a similar warning.
By the time you map out the supply chain, it’s just a spider web going everywhere. I would be surprised if there are any (U.S.) cars that don’t have at least one Canadian-based part. Canada is a pretty important part of auto manufacturing. Any part that doesn’t arrive or if there’s something wrong with it, you can’t build it. There’s more points of failure.
Charles Sox, a supply chain expert and University of Cincinnati professor, mirrored Betts’s point. “Automobiles are very complex machines, they have thousands of component parts. It only takes one missing part to stop you from being able to complete that vehicle and sell it,” Sox said.
Report: Detroit Man Accused of Setting Fire to Girlfriend Pregnant with Twins Bonds Out for $5,000
A 41-year-old Detroit man accused of setting fire to his girlfriend, who is pregnant with twins, has bonded out of a Wayne County jail for just $5,000 after posting ten percent of his $50,000 bond, according to a report.
“Police said Devonne Marsh got into an argument with his girlfriend at their Detroit home off Packard and Outer Drive last Friday, Jan. 14, and he doused her with lighter fluid before setting her on fire,” WJBK reports.
According to the latest reporting from the outlet:
Devonne Marsh was released from the Wayne County Jail Friday morning. According to documents with the jail, he was released from custody just before 11:20 a.m. on Friday. He’s now out on bond with multiple conditions including no weapons, no drug use, and is ordered not to go to their shared apartment.
However, FOX 2 has learned that Marsh has a hold in Macomb County for other charges so while he’s posted bail in Wayne County, he is not currently free.
A man charged with setting his girlfriend – who was 6 months pregnant with twins – on fire, there was shock that his bond was set as low as $50,000 with 10%. Now, for just $5,000, he’s made bail. https://t.co/8PHFtDRtEY
— FOX 2 Detroit (@FOX2News) January 21, 2022
At about 10:40 on January 14, Detroit Police received a tip “that a woman was being held against her will and tortured,” according to WDIZ. At the scene, officers said they found the 26-year-old pregnant woman, with severe burns to her legs and stomach, lying on a bed in the basement of the home. Officers said she could hardly move.
The 26-year-old is in critical condition with burns to 60 percent of her body, and “It’s not yet known if her babies will survive,” WJBK reports. She is six and a half months pregnant.
“How do you do this to another human being? I can’t – it’s unimaginable,” Commander Michael McGinnis of the Detroit Police Department told WJBK.
“Just incredibly traumatic injuries, I did see pictures and I mean the pain that she must be suffering – I can’t imagine,” he said.
Marsh, 41, was arrested and is charged with “kidnapping/abduction, aggravated/felonious assault and violation of the controlled substance act,” according to WDIZ.
He is a parole absconder with a lengthy rap sheet according to WJBK, including previous charges for guns, assault, and drugs.
“Marsh pleaded guilty in Macomb County Circuit Court to four counts of delivering more than 50 grams of cocaine in 2019 and was sentenced to two years probation,” Macomb Daily reports.
The victim had been too scared to report the abuse she was enduring, and Heaven of Oakland County CEO Aimee Nimeh told WJBK that victims often fear retaliation from their abusers when speaking up.
“Fear is part of the relationship and so absolutely there is fear of retaliation,” Nimeh explained.
She added that victims are often frightened by low bonds.
“The court system can be very overwhelming; the process can be complicated,” she said. “It’s not just that court is a little scary, it’s also that what happens next with that assailant that might be coming out, that might be walking free. How do you stay safe in that situation?”
McGinnis previously said he had hoped Marsh, who ended up making bond, remained in custody.
“We just hope that he remains in custody through the trial process so that the victim can heal without the fear of any kind of retribution from him,” McGinnis said.
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