Questions D.C. Journalists Should Ask about COVID-19

And I don’t mean Wor-Shing-Tun, I mean D.C. local reporters (though if other local and state level journalists ask these questions, that would help their own communities).

On the whole, D.C.’s response to COVID-19 has been reasonably good. The city has taken it seriously, though, like just about every other place in the country, the shutdown happened after St. Patrick’s Day ‘weekend’ (that is going to haunt us in a couple of weeks). But residents have been, for the most part, following a voluntary, self-imposed, rigorous stay-at-home regime* (the streets were empty starting Sunday of St. Patrick’s Day ‘weekend’).

The city also has done a reasonable job releasing COVID-19 related statistics. D.C. Health** reports both the positive and negative tests, as well as the number of recovered patients (along with available respirators). So it’s not bad. But there is still more information we need, and it’s up to local journalists, most of whom aren’t science reporter types, to ask good questions. Fortunately, we–and we refers to this asshole with a blog who has been an infectious disease microbiologist for a very long time–like helping! So here are some questions local reporters should ask D.C. Health:

  1. How many COVID-19 positive people are asymptomatic? How many were pre-symptomatic? This can give us some hints about how many people are infected but not sick. The majority of tested people turn out to be negative, but how many of those tests are for asymptomatic people who came in contact with someone, versus someone presenting symptoms? You want the raw numbers for this, by the way. not percentages. If they can’t answer the pre-symptomatic question, then you need to ask why they aren’t following up with those patients, and what they are doing to track them.
  2. How many people who are tested for COVID-19 due to COVID-19-like symptoms test negative? This tells us how many of the negatives were sick with something else (“Great news! You have influenza!”), as opposed to being screened as a precaution.
  3. Are there any efforts to track or surveil*** urgent care and private doctors for reports of COVID-19 symptoms? If not, why not? Right now, all we know about are those who are getting tested, and many of these people are sick (often very sick). This would give us a rough estimation of what is going on in the larger community.

Anyway, this would be good information for citizens to have, so please ask the questions.

*While the federal government was too cavalier about the safety of the federal workforce, by March 17, mandatory telework was in place for many agencies, which helped (obviously, some people still need to show up given their jobs).

**That’s what we call the state department of health.

***You don’t need every case report, just a subsample–though if we had universal healthcare, we would have this information readily available.

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2 Responses to Questions D.C. Journalists Should Ask about COVID-19

  1. expr says:

    I t would be nice to know the false positive and false negative rate
    How many people who tested negative later tested positive (within the incubation period) with or without symptoms
    How many “asymptomatic” people with positive tests later tested developed symptoms (within the incubation period)

  2. Firefighters & EMT did not have a protocol re the virus 2 wks ago. Even now, their protocol is to ask the person a bunch of questions when community contagion is a given. It seemed like talking to EMT’s in Seattle would be a good idea. But why isn’t Bowser’s team providing state of the art leadership?

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