Red. Orange. Yellow.

My  new home state of Utah is gradually reducing the COVID-19 Risk Levels, which define the precautions required or recommended to avoid the spread of the disease.  I was one of those who at the beginning of this said the Red precautions were an over-reaction, in particular the closing of all businesses.   But as someone right in the middle of the age randge most vulnerable to COVID-19, I have adopted what I think are prudent precautions that  probably fall in the RedOrange range.  I avoid unnecessary contact with others, work at home, wear a mask when in public places and practice social distancing.

Every morning, I look at the case counts nationwide and in a few states that are more aggressively opening than we are.  I do not get my statistics from media sites.  For example, I find my Utah case count on Utah,gov, not, the Salt Lake Tribune website.   That is because media sites are not really interested in a careful assessment of the data … they are interested in sensationalizing every upward tick of the case-count while ignoring the downward ticks.  But of course, they should not be basing their conclusions on the day-to-day case changes at all.  Case in point:  Today’s click-catching headline from Newsweek, Texas Gov. Abbott Says Bars to Reopen After State Reports Highest Single-Day Rise in Coronavirus CasesThe article goes on to say, In an interview Monday with CNN’s New Day program, Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson said the record spike was likely to be connected to recent reopenings, as well as increased testing across the state.

Now, I’m not an infectious disease expert, but I am an expert in statistics and I will tell you I would lose my job if I drew any conclusions from a single observation of a random variable.  That’s right … the case count is random.  If I had a new radar and I took one measurement of how far it could see an incoming plane … then said, Wow, this radar is really good … I’d lose my credibility fast.  That is essentially what Newsweek is doing when it implies that a single days COVID-19 count means Texas is opening too soon.   In fact, if  you were to look at the Texas case count on May 17 instead of May 18, you’d see one of the lowest values in the last several weeks (and you’d be just as wrong to conclude that the rapid opening was justified).   The changes of the case counts day to day are known as fluctuations,  If you look at the Texas case count, you’ll see that it varies by several hundred cases per day but the average number of cases has increased gradually over the last week or two.  But of course, State Reports Gradual Increase in Average Number of Coronavirus Cases isn’t as eye-catching as Highest Single Day Rise.

Out and about yesterday, I noticed more people in stores and restaurants and parks … and a smaller percentage of masks.   Even among the gray hairs, there were fewer masks.  Personally, I intend to stay RedOrange for a while while I watch what happens here and in other states that are relaxing requirements and I’d suggest that as a prudent approach for anyone.  I would suggest you get your information from the CDC and state government websites.  I’d skip the media’s assessment (especially the headlines) … for the most part they are not interested in a thoughtful assessment of the data.  Look at the trends in the case counts over the last week or two, not the day to day variations.    For heaven’s sake, don’t follow the politicians … or the crowd.  And try to remember, you are not just protecting yourself, you are protecting more vulnerable folks, like me.  Your Mom.  Your Dad.  Your grandparents.

Think for yourself … and stay safe.

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