Tuesday, January 26, 2021
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Scientists are working to save lives, not impinge freedoms

by Robert Lopp
| November 29, 2020 12:00 AM

I would like to propose a thought experiment about Covid testing related to who gets tested, how often they get tested and how that relates to the conversations about percentages.

I personally have been tested three times and have had negative results all three times. Therefore, I believe the math is 0/3 positive tests or 0%. If someone went to get tested three times and came back positive all three times, by my math that would be 3/3 or 100%. If our test results were combined, we would be 3/6 positive tests or a 50% positive rate. More likely, after my compatriot was found to be positive, he or she would not go back for an immediate test so let’s imagine that the actual numbers were 1/4 - with my three negative tests and the other person’s positive test. This would give us a 25% infection rate, which would clearly be an incorrect representation of the actual risk.

Similarly, if we have a population of 100 patients, and test them and discover that four patients are positive- then our infection rate is 4%. If we don’t test any of them, then our reported infection rate is 0%. But guess what, there are still four patients with Covid either way, just with testing you know you have four infections.

Fortunately for all of us, epidemiologists for centuries have been dealing with this problem and have found solutions (thank you math and science). Infection rates for population-based pandemic studies and metrics are developed and administered to account for any number of factors, including but not limited to:

•Time variables (I may test negative today and positive tomorrow)

•Spatial variables (did I arrive in the Flathead today or have I lived here since the earth first cooled)

•Time/Spatial variables (see above)

•Population demographics (am I a newborn or 900 years old, what’s my address etc.)

•Testing error rates (false positives and negatives, sampling issues, data validation protocols)

Everything from microbial dosage, genetics, infection route, virus strength and immune status impact what the practical effects and conclusions that can be drawn from the underlying data. To be blunt, the scientists that are reporting infection rates, population risks and consequent attributed deaths are working for us to give us the best data and insights that are available and are working day and night to save lives, not impinge on liberties (most of the scientists I know don’t spend any time thinking how to bring the world under their thumb with evil laughs- goofy laughs, but not scary).

In short, my head hurts when non-math people attempt to make math arguments that don’t make sense. But speaking of sense, let’s just use common sense, wearing a mask as it turns out helps protect both me and the other person, plus has the added benefit of making me more handsome by shrouding half my face in mystery. If I could get tested every day so that I know the minute I’m positive, I would. It would help our health care system identify outbreaks, prevent transmission AND most importantly to me, help ensure that my 80 year old father gets every last minute he can being present for his six granddaughters- because as great as they all are- they can use his advice and humor on a regular basis-and to be honest, I need it even more than they do.

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for both our freedoms AND the impingements on those freedoms that we all (mostly) put up with for the good of society. Not just masks and social distancing, but also the more mundane items like using turn signals (PLEASE PEOPLE), seat belts, car seats, putting shopping carts away, not running the leaf-blower at 6 a.m. and most importantly of all, not letting your dog pee on the neighbors mailbox (For the love of Pete people!).

—Robert Lopp is Managing Partner at Rural Health Partners in Kalispell.