Science

All the numbers that the Civil Protection does not say about the coronavirus

Some data on the Covid epidemic – 19 have not been collected ( and it is a problem), others are explained poorly, someone is notoriously underestimated and on others still freezes

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Angelo Borrelli (photo: Cosimo Martemucci / LightRocket / Getty Images)

The exact and absolute knowledge of everything that is happening with the Sars-Cov-2 in Italy could have, in the ideal world, only one omniscient observer . In the real world, to act as the main narrator of the epidemic in recent weeks is in fact the Civil Protection , which is both a collector of everything that comes from the Regions and a daily reference point for anyone who wants some updates on the developments of the epidemic curve and on emergency management.

And if certainly no one can claim omniscience or foresight among the skills of the head of the department Angelo Borrelli and of the numerous and titled experts who take turns at his side, the more time passes and the less tolerable the fact that the official data are at best partial , largely entirely absent when it comes to relevant elements, and on some occasions pure misrepresented . Someone spoke (probably not wrongly) of real “ lies” . With a little more indulgence, they could be called problematic omissions .

The impression, however confirmed and strengthened at each appointment of the 18, is that the numbers we have available are basically useless to understand the evolution of the epidemic, unless limited to a very generic “ is getting worse / a little better / always the same” . But every time a journalist asks for clarification on the uncertainty associated with the values ​​provided, or would like an explanation to interpret the data, or highlight some contradiction in the official numbers , the answers are always of the same tenor, with very strong screeching of mirrors.

The problems of numbers in the bulletins

The walls have learned some things by now, and we just recapitulate them. The number of new positive cases is underestimated, probably by a factor of 5 or 10, because the swabs are essentially performed on only subjects (very) symptomatic , and in fact most of those infected with mild or absent symptoms are never formally declared affected by Covid – 19. Even the number of deaths is underestimated, as demonstrated by the many people who died in the house (or in rest homes) with symptoms compatible with coronavirus infection and never swabbed. Based on comparisons with the average mortality rate, in the most affected areas we could easily have double or triple of dead compared to the official calculation. For the healed something similar applies, but in the opposite direction: even if less relevant, even that number is a slightly distorted because it includes indiscriminately both those who have been declared healed after a double negative swab and those who are clinically healed as it no longer shows symptoms, both those who have improved to the point of simply being discharged from the hospital. Of course, they are no longer people who risk their lives, but they could still be virus positive and contagious.

In light of these catches in the source data, the number of people currently positive (the one that insists on press conferences, as known in a somewhat ' tangled ) Has an uncertainty which is the sum of all those of the starting data. If we add to this that the data arrive with delays different from the various regions, with different times and strategies of execution of the buffers depending on the area, and with a variable statistical mix, the daily bulletin will also be stamped with the official, but as for accuracy it should be admitted that perfection is very far away.

Big data absent

If it is more than understandable – given the general delay with which the country system has faced the coronavirus and the rapid growth of the infections – that some data are inaccurate, it is difficult to explain why others numbers are still completely unavailable . For example there is no official estimate , at least in terms of order of magnitude, what the number is likely of people infected and those who died with Covid – 19. That is, consequently, there is no sensible evaluation of the actual lethality of the disease, which is not the simple apparent lethality obtained from the ratio between the number (underestimated) of the dead and that (underestimated) of the infected. It makes no sense, in fact, to comment on a variation of some percentage point in the official figures if then we are all d I agree that those figures are deeply wrong , and we don't even know how to give an idea of ​​how much.

In other cases, numbers are not communicated (not even in the face of explicit requests) that cannot fail to be present . The most striking is probably the number of people subjected to at least one tampon . We know the total number of swabs performed (with day-to-day detail), but we do not know how many of these were the second, third or perhaps the fourth swab always made on the same person. Consequently, therefore, we cannot know what is the fraction of the population registered , and also the much talked about ratio between positive cases and swabs in fact means little or nothing, as the calculation of the swabs also includes those for the verification of the healings.

Beyond which body is responsible for collecting individual data, our institutions have not yet been able to provide the number of people died in retirement homes , the difference in the general mortality of 2020 compared to past years (with the exception of about one municipality out of seven, for which we have the data), the average age of the people admitted to intensive care, the probability of survival of hospitalized patients, and so on.

Those zeroes that certainly are not

The preferred rhetorical weapon to defend against uncomfortable questions of the journalists and glissing on thorny topics has long become the classic “I don't know” , or the “we have not received any reports” , sometimes supported by the justification that the regions do not provide the information. Now, that it is not formally shown and that it has not been reported may also be true – nobody doubts it – but the fact that a national coordination seems to be in the dark of dynamics for which there are dozens or hundreds of direct testimonials only in the press is not a good sign. The does not appear , in fact, it is an aggravating circumstance that proves that something is not working , not a way to deny that problems exist. But let's take some examples.

How many people, according to the Civil Protection, have been unable to access intensive care because of the overload of the hospitals? Zero. Yet there are doctors who tell us that they have had to choose who to treat and who not, there are the aforementioned thousands of people who died outside hospitals who have never been made even a tampon, and there is the strange one elbow in the trend of the percentage of patients admitted to the intensive care unit that coincidentally coincides with the moment in which the departments have reached their maximum capacity. Officially, the only patients who have not found space in Lombardy are that hundred transferred through the interregional system Cross in other areas of Italy. Officially, everyone received the maximum possible care, with timely help and hospitalization in intensive care whenever it could be useful. But in practice it did not go like this , yet the answer continues to be zero.

Then, how many hospitals have faced a critical phase , in which patients have not received the best possible care? Zero. Never since the beginning of the epidemic has a disservice of the health system been reported by the national coordination, if not through generic references to a very intense situation . However, local chronicles in hand, there are several stories of ambulances called for emergencies and also half a day later, and we were all impressed by the declarations of heartbreaking doctors who had to give priority to patients with more chances to get by. Of course in this case you cannot expect a precise numerical value, but you could admit that it is not a zero.

And how many, according to the experts who took part in the press conferences, the people on whom the buffer was not made but which should have been tested? Zero. This is equivalent to stating, according to the indications of the World Health Organization that everyone reiterates that they have followed, that to all people who have had at least one symptom between fever , cough and breathing difficulty the swab would have been made. Do we have to believe it? Probably any Italian has at least one person among his knowledge who could refute this answer from direct experience.

Of course, on the one hand there is the need to remain adhering to official data and don't let yourself go to the speculations , on the other there is also the will to reassure and do not create panic. Then there is the certainty that, faced with the possible admission that these zeros are not zeros, the next question would be “So how many?” . At that point it should be admitted that not only does that problem exist (or at least it did exist), but also that it was numerically quite large, and that nobody really knows how much .

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