Definitions matters: COVID edition

From The Times of London (Emphasis added):

The official coronavirus daily death count is expected to fall by up to three quarters after ministers switched to a method designed to spot a second wave more quickly and avoid scaring people.

Britain’s overall total death toll has been cut by more than 5,000 to 41,329 after England decided to include only those who died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus.

Oh dear.

It gets worse:

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, ordered a review into the counting three weeks ago after being alerted that PHE included anyone who had tested positive for coronavirus in the official tally, whatever their actual cause of death.

Before people get too excited:

At the height of the pandemic, this made little difference, with 99 per cent of those who died after testing positive doing so within a month. The discrepancy has grown, with the average time between testing and death now 76 days.

The most comprehensive measure is thought to be “excess deaths”, counting how many more people are dying than usual, which also captures people killed indirectly by lockdown or lack of access to NHS care. This measure, by which the ONS recently judged Britain as having the worst death rate in Europe, is unaffected by the change.

Unravelling the COVID death toll and determining whether governments reacted appropriately, or over-reacted, in response to the pandemic is going to be a huge task.

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37 Responses to Definitions matters: COVID edition

  1. Sean

    So are better treatments keeping people alive longer only to have them die outside the 28 day window or did the disease initially just take out the most frail…?

  2. sean

    Scott Adams of all people is probably talking the most sense on the issue

    1) Anyone proclaiming ‘this country is doing better/worse that us’ probably lacks the analytical ability to make important decisions about public health matters
    2) Economists, who are trained at analysis trade-offs between decisions, are probably worth listening to over Karens
    3) Nobody knows what success looks like and nobody will for a long time.
    4) No one data set is consistent country to country due to testing and hospital procedures differing across nations (i.e. the only way to know what works would be to collect data from a lot of doctors treating patients around the globe)
    .
    e.g. if Germany now goes a week without a death…has their policy worked, or are they delaying the inevitable? What relation does that have to the lockdown policy in the USA or Sweeden…probably none! And yet the media would like to proclaim any one statistic validates any plan to deal with Covid-19 in other countries with different cultures/health/median age/median age of those infected and sex/weather etc.

  3. H B Bear

    Lies, damned lies and statistics.

  4. Hay Stockard

    67.25% of statistics are just made up.

  5. Roger W

    “Oh dear”, indeed.
    So, even if you died as a result of a bullet to the head, if you tested positive within the previous 28 days, you died of Covid 19?
    Doesn’t really demonstrate a big improvement in accuracy, it would seem.
    Excess deaths may well show a lower death toll than normal at this stage, given that many deaths from flu, car accidents etc may actually be down because of the lock-down and deaths from cancers not treated etc will not show up for some time?
    Is this a concerted attempt by “the establishment” to thoroughly discredit mathematics and science? If so, it seems to be working!

  6. Pyrmonter

    @ Sean

    2) Economists, who are trained at analysis trade-offs between decisions, are probably worth listening to over Karens

    Up to a point. Several generations of economists were convinced that there was a trade-off between wage inflation and unemployment. Remember that those who consider they have identified relevant trade-offs are really saying they have solved the complex informational requirements raised by the socialist calculation problem (and as an aside, the same is probably the same for the Taylor Rule, even if Taylor is the President of the MPS).

    Economics equips thinkers with tools for analysis; whether it allows for definitive answers raises interesting methodological questions.

    http://public.econ.duke.edu/~kdh9/Courses/Graduate%20Macro%20History/Readings-1/Phillips.pdf

    https://www.econlib.org/archives/2010/11/milton_friedman_12.html

  7. Lee

    So, even if you died as a result of a bullet to the head, if you tested positive within the previous 28 days, you died of Covid 19?

    Surely politicians and bureaucrats wouldn’t actually want to greatly exaggerate the threat or impact of Covid-19? (/sarc off)

  8. Up The Workers!

    So if a Pom was first poisoned, then shot in the head, stabbed multiple times and had all his limbs chain-sawed off before being burned to a crisp in a deliberately-lit house-fire, his cause of death would be officially listed by the Leftard Apocalyptic Catastrophists as “Peking Pox” if he had earlier been diagnosed as positive?

    Yeah, that sounds reasonable.

  9. Delta

    Unravelling the COVID death toll and determining whether governments reacted appropriately, or over-reacted, in response to the pandemic is going to be a huge task.

    Well that probably won’t happen as those responsible for promoting and fanning this mass hysteria will quietly slip into the shadows to avoid any scrutiny, not that any action could provide recompense for the damage that has been done both globally and nationally.

    Any decent statistician will tell you that these outbreaks follow a normal distribution curve and that no, infection rates do not increase exponentially ad infinitum as many so health bureaucrats would have us believe. A proper mathematical analysis would have indicated (as it did for statisticians who analysed the data) the turning points in infection rates and the likely projection of the infection curves. But again no, that didn’t happen as almost seamlessly, governments switched from flatten the curve to eliminate infections of any type. So no proper analysis of the appropriate course of action was taken which simply should have been to protect the vulnerable (older people) and isolate them if necessary but get on with living for everyone else.

    The main focus should have been on excess deaths if any. And they have been shown to be none. That’s it – none in spite of counting the number of octogenerian and nonagenarian deaths in nursing homes — really! Oh wait I heard of one centenarian death!

    When it comes to definitions and reporting of WhuFlu deaths, the UK takes the cake. Dr John Lee in an article in The Spectator on 28 March reported:

    But there’s another, potentially even more serious problem: the way that deaths are recorded. If someone dies of a respiratory infection in the UK, the specific cause of the infection is not usually recorded, unless the illness is a rare ‘notifiable disease’. So the vast majority of respiratory deaths in the UK are recorded as bronchopneumonia, pneumonia, old age or a similar designation. We don’t really test for flu, or other seasonal infections. If the patient has, say, cancer, motor neurone disease or another serious disease, this will be recorded as the cause of death, even if the final illness was a respiratory infection. This means UK certifications normally under-record deaths due to respiratory infections.

    Now look at what has happened since the emergence of Covid-19. The list of notifiable diseases has been updated. This list — as well as containing smallpox (which has been extinct for many years) and conditions such as anthrax, brucellosis, plague and rabies (which most UK doctors will never see in their entire careers) — has now been amended to include Covid-19. But not flu. That means every positive test for Covid-19 must be notified, in a way that it just would not be for flu or most other infections.

    In the current climate, anyone with a positive test for Covid-19 will certainly be known to clinical staff looking after them: if any of these patients dies, staff will have to record the Covid-19 designation on the death certificate — contrary to usual practice for most infections of this kind. There is a big difference between Covid-19 causing death, and Covid-19 being found in someone who died of other causes. Making Covid-19 notifiable might give the appearance of it causing increasing numbers of deaths, whether this is true or not. It might appear far more of a killer than flu, simply because of the way deaths are recorded.

    Read the whole article for more information and some comparisons with other countries back then. Has anything changed – no not much. What a complete balls up. Can it be fixed – yes but that means getting back to work, opening borders and on with life with a few focussed measures to protect the vulnerable. I wish….

  10. pbw

    Notes from the Spectator UK yesterday.

    Virus casualties now below that for summer flu

    We are, of course, in the middle of a deadly pandemic of a novel infectious disease. But at present, it is not killing remotely as many people in England and Wales as is that boring old disease no-one seems to worry about: the summer flu. Yet few seem to have noticed, while we fret about whether reopening schools, bars and so on will cause a second wave of Covid-19, that flu is killing five times as many people in England and Wales. In the week ending 31 July, these are the tallies for cause of death (as measured by mentions on death certificates): influenza and pneumonia, 928; Covid-19, 193. What’s more, this isn’t new: more people have been dying of the flu than Covid-19 since the middle of June.

    There is a certain amount of double-counting going on here: some people who have been recorded as a Covid-19 death may also have fallen into the category ‘influenza and pneumonia’ – given that, as with flu, it is often pneumonia which actually delivers the final blow. But even if all those 193 Covid-19 deaths were also being counted in the ‘influenza and pneumonia’ column, it stands to reason that more people are dying of non Covid-19-related pneumonia than are dying of Covid-19.

    Should we start worrying about a pandemic of summer flu instead? Perhaps not, for the simple reason that while flu deaths are running at about five times Covid-19 levels, they are markedly down on the average of the past five years. But it does rather pose the question: why are we still placing serious restrictions on the economy and on personal freedom when Covid-19 deaths are so much lower than deaths from the ordinary flu?

  11. MPH

    Honk honk…

    By the way if you want to make life or death trade offs you need an engineer, preferably with a bit of Quantative Risk Assessment experience.

  12. MACK

    This was pointed out by UK pathologists months ago, and they were ignored by politicians and journalists. Just another example of the scientific illiteracy of those in charge.
    https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/the-way-covid-deaths-are-being-counted-is-a-national-scandal

  13. Some History

    Chris Snowdon had a thread listing a plethora of incompetence, in addition to the current mentioned, by Public Health England for the last few months:

    The staggering incompetence of Public Health England

    https://velvetgloveironfist.blogspot.com/2020/07/the-staggering-incompetence-of-public.html

  14. Leo G

    Will any person who dies as a result of coronavirus infection after day 28 of infection be recorded as a recovery?

  15. We let the pricks get away with lying to us and manipulating data for over 3 decades now.
    That trope “believe in science” has done as much damage as the military industrial complex over the last 30 years, possibly much more.
    The funny thing is, scientists themselves don’t believe scientists. In fact they treat each other as if they were the biggest liars and scamsters on the planet.
    If you don’t accept that claim, check out the scientists own devised “Scientific Method” where no one is believed, no one is appealed to and everything but everything has to be checked, double checked, verified and all efforts made to falsify.

    NEVER EVER BELIEVE SCIENTISTS, especially when fame and buckets loads of money are involved.

    When hospitals and test centres get extra money for COVID cases, expect case numbers to be inflated.
    When there are $Billions involved in vaccine development, expect simple $5 cures to be rubbished and dismissed with fervor.

    We’ve been had.

  16. Eyrie

    NEVER EVER BELIEVE SCIENTISTS, especially when fame and buckets loads of money are involved.

    Many are just a slightly better, more intelligent, class of used car salesmen.

  17. Chris M

    which also captures people killed indirectly by lockdown or lack of access to NHS care

    What is this? Won’t that give a distorted result also? The deaths caused by government lockdowns will be many times that of the actual virus and will continue for many months, probably years.

  18. Beachcomber

    H B Bear #3546224, posted on August 13, 2020 at 10:44 am

    Lies, damned lies and statistics.

    Hay Stockard #3546262, posted on August 13, 2020 at 11:08 am

    67.25% of statistics are just made up.

    Indeed.

  19. billie

    million to one chances come up 80% of the time, everyone knows that!

  20. nb

    It was always about definitions and reporting requirements. In the USA you could die from a car crash and still be counted. Moreover, a one tick in one box on a sheet of paper was worth tens of thousands of dollars to a hospital per death.
    Anyhow, at least we know the Victorian government prefers to be in debt to the tune of billions to China rather than having free enterprise. Oh, and they encourage a transfer of wealth to public employees (including private contractors to government) as business owners and employees sell off their houses and other assetts (or are out of the market for purchase). It’d be interesting to see in a year’s time how this wealth transfer works out. Of course, this will be exacerbated by pay increases to the public sector, and of course to (unionised) private contractors on public projects.

  21. nb

    Oh, and the IPA reports this:
    “The differences between the two Australias have never been so stark. Those working in the public sector have been insulated from the job losses occurring in the productive, private sector.”
    https://ipa.org.au/publications-ipa/private-sector-smashed-while-bureaucrats-flourish-in-lockdown

  22. Louis

    It will never be known. The statistics will be more massaged than the temperature records. As well as politics, people/organisations have a financial incentive to make sure the figures justify their actions.

  23. Ozman

    MACK
    #3546328, posted on August 13, 2020 at 11:47 am
    Re: histopathology article. Great read.
    https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/the-way-covid-deaths-are-being-counted-is-a-national-scandal

    Interesting that in April alone 10000 deaths were from dementia. People forget far too much. Makes the scare easier to create.

  24. Lizzi55

    The BS covid test also detects bacteria and other viral infections, see extract and link from CDC below:

    https://www.fda.gov/media/134922/download

    “Positive results are indicative of active infection with 2019-nCoV but do not rule out bacterial infection or co-infection with other viruses. The agent detected may not be the definite cause of disease.”

    New York Times article from 2007 describes how the BS test caused a fake whooping cough epidemic:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/22/health/22whoop.html

    This is not the first time the WHO has declared a fake pandemic, it has happened before:

    https://www.forbes.com/2010/02/05/world-health-organization-swine-flu-pandemic-opinions-contributors-michael-fumento.html#71e707f148e8

    Only way to eliminate the virus is to eliminate the test (do not take it)

    If you are very sick and test positive they put you on a ventilator, you chances of survival are slim. They will not give you hydroxychloroquine and zinc, the Gates-funded WHO will not allow it.

  25. Judge Dredd

    Here’s something interesting, go and have a look at the death rate chart for USA. Then have a look at every Sunday in the week. You will notice that Sunday is consistently the LOWEST death rate for nearly every week, week after week, compared to all other days of the week.
    Now we know death doesn’t take a break on Sundays, but certainly it shows the stats are fiddled with, most likely at the hospitals where they mark the cause of death.

  26. pat

    English subtitles:

    Youtube: 4m40s: 6 May: Italian Parliament Leader Slams False COVID-19 Numbers
    On Friday, April 24, 2020, Vittorio Sgarbi, a member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, denounced what he claims are false coronavirus death statistics. Sgarbi feels that fake statistics are being propagated by the government and the media to terrorize the citizens of Italy and establish a dictatorship.

    The member of the Forza Italia party slammed the closure of 60% of Italian businesses for 25,000 Chinese-Coronavirus deaths from the floor of the legislature. “It’s not true,” he said. “Don’t use the deaths for rhetoric and terrorism.” According to the National Institute of Health, 96.3% did not die of coronavirus, but of other pathologies stated Sgarbi – which means that only 925 have died from the virus and 24,075 have died of other things claimed Sgarbi, “….the virus was little more than an influenza. Don’t lie! Tell the truth!”

    Sgarbi challenged his colleagues to investigate the real numbers themselves and be united in the reporting the truth.
    Sgarbi has been a member of the Italian Parliament several times and also served also in Milan’s municipal government. Sgarbi is also a famous art critic, historian, cultural commentator and television personality.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9wuFazgpc4

    23 March: UK Telegraph: Why have so many coronavirus patients died in Italy?
    The country’s high death toll is due to an ageing population, overstretched health system and the way fatalities are reported
    By Sarah Newey
    According to Prof Walter Ricciardi, scientific adviser to Italy’s minister of health, the country’s mortality rate is far higher due to demographics – the nation has the second oldest population worldwide – and the manner in which hospitals record deaths…

    … Prof Ricciardi added that Italy’s death rate may also appear high because of how doctors record fatalities.
    “The way in which we code deaths in our country is very generous in the sense that all the people who die in hospitals with the coronavirus are deemed to be dying of the coronavirus.
    “On re-evaluation by the National Institute of Health, only 12 per cent of death certificates have shown a direct causality from coronavirus, while 88 per cent of patients who have died have at least one pre-morbidity – many had two or three,” he says…
    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/have-many-coronavirus-patients-died-italy/

  27. Lee

    Oh, and the IPA reports this:
    “The differences between the two Australias have never been so stark. Those working in the public sector have been insulated from the job losses occurring in the productive, private sector.”

    But we’re all in this together, don’t forget.

  28. Mother Lode

    The Clinton’s could have Ghislaine Maxwell hung, drawn and quartered, and the result of the autopsy would be COVID-19.

  29. pat

    all MSM using 5,000 figure, but it’s ***5,400 or thereabouts!

    12 Aug: BBC: Coronavirus: England death count review reduces UK toll by 5,000
    A review of how deaths from coronavirus are counted in England has reduced the UK death toll by more than 5,000, to 41,329, the government has announced.
    The recalculation is based on a new definition of who has died from Covid.
    Previously, people in England who died at any point following a positive test, regardless of cause, were counted in the figures.
    But there will now be a cut-off of 28 days, providing a more accurate picture of the epidemic.
    This brings England’s measure in line with the other UK nations…

    The new methodology for counting deaths means the total number of people in the UK who have died from Covid-19 comes down from 46,706 to 41,329 – a reduction of 12%.

    And figures for deaths in England for the most recent week of data – 18 to 24 July – will drop by 75%, from 442 to 111…

    Analysis by Hugh Pym, health editor
    There is no yardstick endorsed by the World Health Organization and PHE argued there was no single ideal way of working out the total.
    In future, death numbers for England will be published using both 28-day and 60-day cut off points.
    The 28-day limit will, however, be the headline measure and will at least achieve consistency across the UK.

    ***Cutting around 5,400 from the death total will be a talking point among statisticians…

    Someone who recovered from Covid-19 in March and died in a car crash in July would have been counted as a coronavirus death…
    Prof Keith Neal, emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases, from the University of Nottingham: “The 28 days is widely used in many countries and England is now the same as the rest of the UK,” he said.
    “The previous measure of always being a Covid death, even if recovered, was unscientific.”…
    https://www.bbc.com/news/health-53722711

  30. Frank

    From the good doctor Theodore Dalrymple.

    I can, however, make a reasonable prediction, or perhaps prophecy would be a better word for it. “Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships?” wrote Christopher Marlowe of Helen of Troy. “Was this the epidemic that launch’d a thousand PhD theses?” It was, and they will settle nothing once and for all. There will always be a need for further research.

  31. Lord Muck

    Lies, damned lies and statistics.

    I think the revised order of unreliability is now: Lies, damned lies, statistics and a government press release.

  32. Pyrmonter

    @ Mother Lode

    ‘hanged’

  33. Catcalling Inebriate

    I recall Premier Wran had a problem getting trains to run on time, until his wise adviser suggested the Mussolini solution. Change the definition of late.

  34. mem

    Frank
    #3546557, posted on August 13, 2020 at 3:26 pm
    From the good doctor Theodore Dalrymple.

    I can, however, make a reasonable prediction, or perhaps prophecy would be a better word for it. “Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships?” wrote Christopher Marlowe of Helen of Troy. “Was this the epidemic that launch’d a thousand PhD theses?” It was, and they will settle nothing once and for all. There will always be a need for further research.
    Jonathon Swift said similar a few years before in “Gulliver’s Travels” but still most prescient:

    Context: Lemuel Gulliver visits the land of Balnibarbi, where people insist on doing everything in an impractical fashion. Those few who wish to use common sense in their activities are forced by social and political pressure to conform to the impractical. The epitome of the attitudes of the people of the land is found in the Grand Academy at the capital city of Lagado. At the academy Gulliver sees all sorts of experimentation going on. The most striking aspect of the projects is their absurdity, the second is that they all require a constant flow of money, like modern research and development projects. Swift is not satirizing only general impracticality; he is also hitting some of the contemporary follies of the British Royal Academy, whose membership sometimes indulged in activities that Swift, at least, did not approve. The first projector Gulliver meets at the Grand Academy of Lagado is typical of them all:
    . . . He had been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put in vials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers. He told me, he did not doubt in eight years more, that he should be able to supply the Governor’s gardens with sunshine at a reasonable rate; but he complained that his stock was low . . . since this had been a very dear season for cucumbers. I made him a small present. . . .

  35. Matt

    So we don’t attribute a death to cancer if someone dies 28 days after diagnosis?

  36. John A

    a) Unravelling the COVID death toll and
    b) determining whether governments reacted appropriately, or over-reacted, in response to the pandemic
    is going to be a huge task.

    The answer to a) is yes indeed if we talk mathematically but
    the answer to b) in Australia is so obvious that even blind Freddy could tell us.

    In the PDR of Viktoriastan, the stage 4 restrictions with masks and curfew have been in place since 2 August. This is less than a fortnight and thus less than the bug “life cycle” of infection through to recovery of 14-21 days.

    Thus the downward trend in active cases seen in the statistics of recoveries since the start of this week cannot be attributed to the imposition of Stage 4 restrictions but was already in train in late July.

    Let’s make sure the Premier and his extra-Parliamentary minions don’t forget it! We may need to point out that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who do the work and those who take the credit, and they do not overlap .

  37. Beachcomber

    The Real State Of The COVID Crisis

    In short: there isn’t one.

    This is of course of no consequence to Australia’s Dear Leaders and Ministry of Peace Commissars (Chief Health Officers / Chief Medical Officers). We will always be at war with a virus!

    Watching the Ministry of Truth media news. They will never admit to or let the masses see the reality!

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