2020-05-14 – There’s a statistic floating around the right-wing conspiracy world: it’s that 66% of the hospitalizations in New York are from people sheltering in place. This is held up as evidence that social distancing does not work. I first heard of this when someone offered this item in a comment on one of my Facebook posts. I’ve seen it a lot since.
I have a little knowledge of statistics, so, when I see stuff like this, I immediately have questions. First, why what was the context of this study. What percentage of the total population of New York were sheltering in place? If it was 80%, this statistic would be an improvement, though bleak. Then I started to wonder, why would you focus only on people who were hospitalized (other than it’s an easy way to get the data)? What about the people who remained healthy?
It turns out, I was on the right track. And far from undermining the idea of social distancing, the statistic supports it. Here’s what is happening.
Imagine a three-person family that is sheltering in place. Sheltering in place is not a 100% perfect strategy. You have to have contact with the outside world to get food or, maybe, to work. You wear your mask but you’re exposed. You come home, you take off your mask and you give it to your spouse and your kid. That’s where the 66.6% comes from: the in-home transmission. Everyone was compliant to the best of their ability. But they didn’t social distance from the people they lived with.
Of course, this simplifies things. Some families are smaller. Some are larger. Some people live with roommates. Some people live in group homes like assisted living facilities and nursing homes. This last category was a big problem in New York (and elsewhere, of course).
If you wanted a statistic on the benefit of wearing masks (or lack thereof), you’d have to include healthy people in the study!
But based just on the 66% statistic, the meaning totally flips. Far from being an indictment of social distancing, it just raises the stakes. Wearing your mask not only protects you and the people you encounter in the street. It protects your family! If you go out without your mask you could bring the disease home to them.
So, the statistic doesn’t say at all what they think it says. But they like it anyway because the statistic apparently comes from one of Donald Trump’s foes Gov. Andrew Cuomo. And I think it has an echo of 666, the supposed Mark of the Beast.
Of course, this is not the only baloney flying around cyberspace. I can’t take them all on, but let me take on one more.
This is a piece that “suggests” (It doesn’t say, it suggests) that some unnamed forces are “priming” us for some unnamed fate by orchestrating all the media to use two phrases: “were all in this together” and “stay home, stay safe.”
The author never really says what dreaded fate we’re being primed for. But I can make a guess, based on the priming phrases. Here’s what I think we’re being primed for: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Horrors! We would want that, would we?
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