All That and a Bag of Mail

It’s Friday and the entire country, including my readership, all want to talk about the coronavirus.

Almost every question on Twitter is about the coronavirus, almost every email I’ve gotten all week has been about the coronavirus so let’s start right off the top with the direct connection between sports and the coronavirus.

Namely, ten NBA players have tested positive for the coronavirus so far. The LA Times reported that eight NBA teams have been tested. This morning on the Outkick radio program Chris Mannix told us he didn’t believe all the players on the Lakers or the Celtics had completed tests, but let’s go ahead and presume they all did and the numbers aren’t changing.

This would mean that ten out of 120 NBA players so far have tested positive for the coronavirus. That’s an 8.3% positivity rate.

This is fascinating to me because right now we have a denominator problem when it comes to the coronavirus. That is, we don’t know how prevalent the virus truly is among the general public. That’s because outside of the NBA, which is testing everyone, we are only testing people for the coronavirus if they already feel sick.

Without knowing the denominator — that is, the number of people with the virus — we can’t determine the death rate, aka the numerator, that is the number of people dying from the virus. The higher the prevalence of the virus, the lower the death rate.

Theoretically we should be pretty confident in the death rate. Since a dead body is, generally speaking, hard to hide. Yes, some countries can fudge on their numbers or provide inaccurate data, but the death rates are much more reliable data. So our numerators are relatively sound.

Right now we are determining the death rate by dividing the number of deaths by the number of known positive cases. So at the present moment as I write this morning the death rate in America is 1.5%. (That’s 14,732 positive cases divided by 218 deaths.) The death rate in South Korea is 1.1%. In Germany the death rate for the virus is an incredibly low .28%. Italy is a whopping 8.3%. China, where the virus began, is roughly 4%.

But all of these death rates are based on the total number of positive test cases.

And that means our denominators are incredibly flawed. Because in reality the death rate for this virus is much lower than this because there are many people who feel perfectly fine yet would test positive for the virus if we had a more rigorous testing program.

Put simply, we can’t calculate an accurate death rate for this virus because we don’t know what percentage of our infections are actually being counted.

Which brings me back to the NBA player testsing.

Ten NBA players have tested positive for the coronavirus, most of them without any symptoms at all. (And even the players with symptoms — like Rudy Gobert or Christian Wood — were healthy enough to still play basketball. They just felt a bit under the weather.)

Guys like Kevin Durant and Donovan Mitchell tested positive for the coronavirus with no symptoms at all.

Right now only people with symptoms — other than NBA players — are being tested for the virus. But what about all the Kevin Durant’s and the Donovan Mitchell’s out there, the guys and girls who have the virus but feel completely healthy? Most of them aren’t being tested and hence they aren’t being included in the denominator, meaning our death rate is wildly exaggerated.

When we calculate the death rate for this virus right now we are calculating the death rate only by dividing by the number of people who have tested positive for the virus, which is (likely) a small subset of the people who actually have the virus.

So far as I know we haven’t had randomized virus tests of the general public. (The closest thing to a randomized test of the general public in America is actually NBA players.)

Why does this matter?

Well, if the NBA players tested so far were representative of the larger population, that is if 8.3% of Americans were also testing positive for the virus that would mean that there are presently 27 million people infected with the coronavirus in this country. Which would mean that the virus might be wildly prolific, but not very dangerous at all.

How do we know that? Because our denominator would be entirely different.

Instead of dividing the 218 present American deaths by the 14,732 known positive cases, we’d be dividing it by 27 million cases.

That would mean our death rate wouldn’t be 1.5%, it would be .0000081.

Which would mean that even if the entire country of 327 million people became infected with the virus only 2640 people would die.

Plainly, all loss of life is tragic, but this is a fraction of the yearly flu deaths in this country and, remember, 8000 people die every day in this country.

Indeed, nearly three million people die every year, in America alone.

If the NBA’s infection rate were representative of the entire population we would be shutting down our nation’s entire economy for a tiny fraction of the deaths in this nation, leading to trillions of dollars in economic losses and far more deaths as a result of a rising unemployment rate. (The unemployment rate correlates with much higher rates of depression, suicide, and illness in our country.)

Which brings us to the single most important question no one is asking about the coronavirus, what’s our denominator? That is, what’s our national rate of infection. Not our national rate of tested infection, but our national rate of infection.

We simply don’t know.

Are the NBA player results outliers or are they representative of the nation? Sadly, we don’t know. Which is why more than anything right now what we desperately need is an accurate denominator. We need to know what percentage of our population has this virus so we can adequately and intelligently adjust public policy as a result.

How do we do this?

We need randomized tests being conducted on a cross-section of the American population to determine how prevalent this virus is between both those with symptoms and those without symptoms. Because only then will be have an accurate sense for how deadly this virus truly is.

An early Chinese study, which has been widely cited in the media but not utilized very intelligently, found that six out of seven people in China who tested positive for the virus were asymptomatic. If we presume that our 14,732 positive cases in America — remember, these are all people tested who had symptoms — are 1/7th of the total infections then that would mean there are 88,392 people who have the virus in America right now and aren’t aware of it.

That’s far less than the NBA’s percentages would suggest, but even that would still drastically change our death rate.

We’d go from 1.2% of patients dying to .0021% dying, which isn’t that much different than the rate of death for the flu. You’d apply the same denominator to the rest of the world, by the way. Which would suggest that, for instance, the reason why Italy’s death rate looks so much higher than everyone else’s is probably because the overall rate of infection in Italy would be much higher than elsewhere. (Clearly the standard of care in hospitals factors in here as well, but rate of infection would be the biggest factor).

Another important aspect here is that these are rates of CURRENT infection. They don’t even consider people who have already had the disease. These NBA players had to contract it from someone else, right? It’s certainly possible that other members of their team already had the disease and so the rate of infection — and exposure — is even higher than 8.3%.

Regardless of anything else, our nation — and the world — has a clear denominator problem here that isn’t accurately being calculated as we determine which public policies to implement.

Wildly, despite everything that’s being written about the coronavirus almost no one is pointing this fact out.

I feel like I’m screaming from the rooftops here, but we need more data in order to justify locking people up in their homes and telling them not to go to work.

Because the economic consequences of these decisions we’re making as a country are very real, but the data upon which we are relying to make these decisions are incredibly weak.

And any decision you make is only as good as the data and right now our data is just not good enough.

That’s why I’d support, at an absolute minimum, continuing the testing of every NBA player. If we did that we’d have 450 people in our sample size. Most would be healthy and exhibiting no symptoms of illness. Would 8.3% of the 450 NBA players also test positive for the coronavirus? I don’t know, but I’d like to find out since as you increase the sample size your data becomes more reliable.

But what we really need are truly randomized tests of the American general public to see what percentages are infected with the virus. After all, NBA teams are made up predominately of athletic black men in their twenties. That’s a small subset of the overall American population.

Maybe athletic black men in their twenties test positive at higher rates than the public, maybe they test lower. We just don’t know.

Which is why we need a truly randomized sample size of the American public to be tested.

We absolutely, positively, have to do this.

And soon.

(Final note: if I screwed up any of the math above, let me know via DM or email. I don’t claim to be great at math. But I also don’t think you have to be very good at math to see that we have a clear denominator problem here.)

Brett writes:

“Should Chick-Fil-A handle the COVID19 testing roll out?”

I figured you guys could use a laugh after all that data up top.

If you’ve ever been through a Chick-Fil-A drive thru you know these guys have it down to a science. It’s uncanny how fast they are.

Whoever designed their testing systems should certainly be in consultation with our drive-thru virus testing as well.

And I’m not even joking about that.

Jeff writes:

“In times like this doesn’t it seem like Nick Saban would be more useful as a governor than a football coach?”

I’ve argued for a while that we have wasted many of Nick Saban’s talents on football. Yes, he’s a great football coach and Alabama and the SEC have benefited from all his titles, but what if Abraham Lincoln had been the best basketball coach in the country instead of a president? (That’s presuming basketball existed back then.)

Think about what the country would have lost out on as a result.

I feel like Nick Saban’s talents are, relatively speaking, being wasted on something that doesn’t matter that much.

Sure, it’s great to win football games, but I think Saban would be an incredible political leader. He’s demanding, intelligent, a great recognizer of talent, not concerned with wasted energy or inefficiencies, he’s basically the anti-politician.

And I think our nation is ready for an anti-politician.

Someone who doesn’t angrily Tweet all day or struggle to complete sentences at his rallies, the anti-Trump and the anti-Biden.

I would 100%, and this is not a joke, vote for Nick Saban for president over Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

Bruce:

“What does the media actually gain from trying to instill as much fear as possible?”

Ratings.

Everyone in media is judged by the ratings we produce.

And when people are scared they watch way more television news. Which means cable news ratings have skyrocketed with coronavirus coverage.

Fear porn, as I call it, rates highly.

People rip me all the time for what I say and do, but most of my content is actually an antidote to this type of media coverage, both in sports, politics and current events. I’m almost always the guy saying things are going to be fine and we don’t need to overreact. Or I’m the guy saying we need more information before we act. Hell, I started off my Friday column up above saying we needed to work on our denominators.

I don’t know how much less sexy and less click baity you can be than that.

Andrew writes:

“How are more people not talking about the potential silver bullet here that this virus was here in December and January and some people have recovered and are immune now? This would end tomorrow if that’s the case.”

This ties in a bit to my denominator point above.

We don’t know patient zero in America, but the longer the virus has been circulating in our country, the better. We already know, for instance, that the first few victims of the coronavirus in Washington state were not identified as such. We just thought they died of the flu or pneumonia.

It was only after we tested them post-death that we realized that coronavirus was here.

But, back to the denominator problem, we also know that the number of people who die of the coronavirus are a small minority of the overall infected individuals. So how long was this thing circulating in our country before we even realized it was here.

We just don’t know.

Many people out there across the country, anecdotally, have said they had an illness that sounds like coronavirus back in the winter, but they didn’t test positive for the flu or any other virus. And, remember, these were people who were sick enough to request treatment.

How many other people had the virus and didn’t even know it.

If some of these people are correct and they did have the illness before it became recognized in the country then it simply suggests our infected group denominator is even larger than we realize. It would also mean our herd immunity is actually stronger than we realize because many more people have been exposed to the virus – and contracted it — than is presently realized.

All of this would also suggest, of course, that shutting down our economy to fight the virus is a very, very bad decision.

But, again, we need more denominator knowledge.

Ryan writes:

“After the Covid-19 situation ends, what social, economic, and political changes do you expect to see happen here in the US?”

This is such a big and great question.

The first one that comes to mind, however, is there will be an argument over who gets the blame and who gets the credit for however the coronavirus crisis ends.

That is, if there’s a relatively small loss of life and the economy bounces back quickly then Donald Trump will use it to argue he’s proven himself by defeating the greatest pandemic crisis in the country’s history. If there’s a substantial loss of life and the economy tanks then Democrats will use it to argue that Trump isn’t qualified to be president and needs to be replaced.

So that’s 100% going to happen, the result of the crisis will be politicized in a big way.

The big positive I would say is, we’ve now had a test run — which hasn’t gone that smoothly so far — over how to respond to a global pandemic.

While we don’t know the infection denominator yet, we do know that his virus, while likely killing thousands, isn’t going to wipe out a substantial portion of the human population like the plague did hundreds of years ago.

So I’d hope we are better prepared for the next great pandemic, which will certainly happen at some point in the future.

Because that pandemic might be far more deadly.

When you think about all the chaos and panic this virus has created, imagine, for instance, a subtle change in this virus’s make up and instead of people over the age of eighty being the primary victims, what if it had been kids under the age of ten?

I will freely admit to all of you that I’d be panicked beyond belief if that were the case. Because I have two kids under the age of ten that matter to me more than anything. I love my parents and my elderly uncles, but they’ve lived full lives. If my kids were at risk, I’d live in constant fear.

I wouldn’t even let my kids go outside if tens of thousands of children were in ventilators all over the world.

So I think one lesson here is that we’ve ultimately dodged a pandemic bullet. This could have been so much worse than it’s going to be. And we need to be prepared for when that more dangerous pandemic arrives. Because it’s probably a matter of when, not if.

Tyler writes:

“How will the world punish China for the cover up of the virus?”

I don’t know what we can or should do, but I definitely feel like something needs to be done to demonstrate there are serious consequences to any country who allows this to happen.

There is zero doubt China’s failures in the early stages of this virus are going to lead to a substantial loss of life around the world. If they had responded adequately in the first place and not tried to hide these cases the world may have been able to stop it from ever spreading outside of Wuhan.

If we’d managed that then we could work on a vaccine to protect us all and our global economy wouldn’t be poised to enter a recession.

Instead China totally botched its response.

That’s why I believe Trump keeps referring to this as a Chinese virus. Because already, now that they’ve stopped its spread in their country, China is trying to shift the blame and argue the United States is responsible for this virus. Trump is trying to ensure the virus is branded by its point of origin so the Chinese government can be held responsible for their failures.

Anyone arguing he’s racist for doing this either isn’t paying attention to the geopolitical issues at play here or is willfully doing the bidding of the Chinese government.

Senator writes:

“Will telework be the new norm after this is over? How does this change society in America? Will behavior be permanently changed, i.e. hygiene etc, just like how 9/11 changed travel?”

This is a fantastic question and it’s still too early to know for sure.

But I do think it could certainly change the way we talk about viruses.

Let me give you an example: the Michael Jordan flu game is generally held up as an example of Jordan’s excellence. But would the reaction be the same if Jordan knowingly played with the coronavirus and infected multiple people on both teams, leading to the shutting down of the NBA Finals for two weeks while players recovered?

In the wake of the coronavirus I could see NBA teams implementing, for instance, mandatory temperature checks before games and if you have a fever you are sent home and aren’t allowed to play. (This could lead to a bunch of NBA Ferris Bueller’s by the way).

But that’s just in sports.

What about screening for passengers with temperatures at airports? We already walk through metal detectors, what if there were devices you walk through similar to metal detectors to take a passenger’s temperature as you prepare to board a plane? If you have a fever you could be told you aren’t allowed to fly and asked to leave the airport until you can return without a fever.

I could see the same sort of temperature screening mechanisms existing in schools, colleges and universities, and other places large masses of people congregate indoors — casinos, sporting events, and malls, for example.

In theory all of these measures could help to defeat the spread of all illnesses. America has been fine with tens of thousands of flu deaths a year up to this point, could the coronavirus change that? It’s possible that our national conversation about sickness evolves to the point where the idea of working or playing when you’re sick is seen as a jealous decision as opposed to a selfless one, where Jordan is the villain instead of the hero.

As for working from home, I think many companies might start to wonder whether they are spending too much money on office space.

We’ve seen the rise of businesses like AirBNB which are predicated on people renting their own homes out as opposed to using hotels.

Could the home office become the newest money saver?

As I finish the mailbag this morning, I can look up from my desk and see my home TV and radio studios. Same with the place where I sit and do my Periscope and Facebook show. I’m able to do both radio and TV daily out of my house without needing a physical location to do so. I’ve always run Outkick from my house, never with the need to rent an office.

There’s no telling how much money that has saved me — and other companies — over the years.

How many companies are going to look at their office rent expenses and wonder how necessary it is to have a physical location, or at least as large of a physical location as they presently have? Especially if, as I suspect it might, the overall productivity of many companies is shown to be equal or even better when employees are able to work remotely from home?

And that’s not even considering the inefficiencies involved in office travel. Think about how much time is wasted driving to and from work each day.

I’m very busy every day so the fact that I’d spend hours a day driving to and from an office just seems insanely inefficient to me. I’m able to do radio, write, and do TV within twenty feet of each other. That makes me insanely efficient.

There are still a great deal of inefficiencies in American capitalism and those inefficiencies reduce profit; I suspect experiments like these being brought on by the coronavirus will lead to substantial changes in our lives, many for the better.

But before all of that happens.

WE HAVE TO FIX OUR CORONAVIRUS DENOMINATOR PROBLEM!

One note as I finish off the mailbag: welcome to Orlando, Jacksonville, Cleveland and Seattle, four new markets for Outkick radio. The radio show is absolutely soaring thanks to all the work you do promoting it.

Thank all of you for reading Outkick and I hope you guys have fantastic weekends.

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