Honolulu got complacent about COVID-19. From flat line to spike

August 17, 2020

The Graph Says it All

This picture seems to say 1000 words about what happens when we do not demand success for an extended period of time. The disturbing increase in cases is almost entirely on Oahu, the main island where you’ll find the state’s capital, Honolulu. Neighbor islands like the former #1 tourist destination in the world—Maui, have had fewer than 10 new cases in the past month. Honolulu did not wait for the success of May 2020 to repeat itself before reopening the economy. It is only quasi-normal, without tourism. The numbers of new cases are plotted on graphs that utilize lines as a way of visually representing ongoing changes. Gradually Increasing cases cause the line to slope upward, gradually decreasing numbers result in a downward slope, resembling a curve. No change is a flat line. Drastic change is a line that looks like a spike going up or down. When scientists said states needed to “flatten the curve” their words seemed to indicate they believed numbers of new cases could be brought down little by little until we reach a flat line representing no new cases. Honolulu’s results appear to show a sudden status change instead of a gradual process. We skipped the curve and went to a spike, like the switch was flipped to “on.” It’s not just that the numbers have increased but the percentage of positive test results has increased. On Sunday the news reported that one day last week (I forget the date) the Department of Health administered 3,033 tests and over 9% of people tested positive instead of less than 2% last month. However, small numbers are not always reliable measures—of anything. If two people take an exam and one scores an A and the other fails, we don’t know anything about the test or the students with this 50% result. If the number (N) is 1000 students and 50% fail, we have evidence of a problem with the test or students. But we cannot take results on face value. We have to look analytically at who makes up the data. Who is included in (N)? In the school example, are researchers randomly selecting students from the whole school? Or are they picking only the students in special ed or gifted and talented (whatever PC term they use these days)? Maybe it’s normal for 50% of remedial students to fail because they have pre-existing issues prior to taking the exam. The pre-existing issues could have contributed to their test failure. Similarly, in Honolulu people are not randomly tested. If a person has to visit the Emergency Room or is otherwise admitted to the hospital, the person is tested. Last week there was testing at the men’s homeless shelter, where drug addiction and mental illness is normal, and 16 people came up positive. That was big news for the media. But let’s think this through. FYI The only people institutionalized are people with sudden or “acute,” illnesses or injuries, and people with long term, or “chronic,” health problems. These people are more likely to contract any virus, than people not institutionalized. Plus, they are confined with other similarly situated, contagious, people. Within the tested group We see internal characteristics and external environmental factors not necessarily shared by the general public. We have about 1 million residents and hardly any of us can get tested. I have tried contacting Department of Health and I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly they answered my voicemail, until I realized they thought I was actively sick, and when they realized I was not actively sick they terminated the call. I am not sick so I was ineligible for testing? Testing! The people who claim to know stuff say we need to test but we aren’t. Does the triple digit daily increase in cases and the climbing infection rate tell us anything about what’s going on for a million people if we are testing only a few thousand a day? Maybe if more people were tested we would know we actually have a decreasing positive rate, or some other hypothetical result. I think we can say that things appear to be getting worse for the people who already have it rough, the people who are locked up, locked down, locked in, locked out. What’s really going on in Honolulu, a place where few people know someone who knows someone who got sick. Life still looks and feels the same. There’s not enough data to answer questions we need answered.


I am not a medical professional and everything I write is my layperson’s opinion based upon dubiously reliable media reports. I say this in case someone stumbles upon this article and makes the common mistake of believing the use of a graph indicates an author’s expertise.
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