Commentary: Constitutional rights trampled by the numbers

By Frank Daniels

I am submitting this article using the BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) methodology. Therefore, here are my thoughts about the COVID-19 numbers we see every day:

• The actual number of individuals tested, the base number from which all statistics are generated, is an unknown.

• The reporting, administration, collection and analysis of the raw data from the testing process is questionable.

• The modified Federal Emergency Management Agency forecasting model used by the state is statistically insignificant.

• Inconsistent types of data have been provided.

• About 65% of Delaware’s COVID-19 deaths are attributable to nursing homes.

• The governor is using the production and representation of the COVID-19 numbers to trample our constitutional rights.

The number tested

As of May 18, this newspaper reported 40,865 total tests. How accurate is that number if (1) on May 2, 22,585 total tests were reported. However, in the same article, Dr. Karyl Rattay indicates Delaware had tested 1.7% of its approximate 973,000 residents. That number is 16,541. And (2) the total number of tests identified May 6 was 33,230; however, on May 8, 27,326 are identified.

Additionally, a caveat is always printed after the total number given – “the figure is preliminary and should not be used as a substitute for the overall number of Delawareans who have been tested.” The total number of tests is the base from which every number identified by the state is derived. The manner in which numbers are given has been inconsistent, reporting the number of negative tests one day, while reporting the total number of tests other days.

The testing process

The manner in which the state collects and reports testing data is not done consistently. To be accurate and understood, numbers must be provided in a consistent manner. In a conversation with a representative of the governor’s office, I was told that the state is relying on testing conducted at the local level with results then forwarded to the state. How long it takes to get results varies, and there appears to be very little coordination with the national testing labs concerning their results.

The questionable validity of the numbers is supported by my conversation with the governor’s rep. I was told that 33,291 tests had been performed as of May 11. However, as stated above, on May 6, the paper printed that 33,230 tests had been performed. If those numbers are factual, are we to believe that the state conducted 61 tests between May 6 and 11?

The FEMA model

We have only seen projections for this model twice, April 18 and again April 25. In both instances, the FEMA model was so far off that to say it had any statistical significance would be reckless. The following table illustrates that point:

I received this response from the governor’s office about the model: “The FEMA model referenced has been designated as For Official Use Only (FOUO) by FEMA and cannot be released.” So, the governor chose a model that the residents of Delaware cannot see, nor ask questions about its construction or its validity?

Inconsistent data shown

The only consistent data shown in the newspaper from the beginning can be seen in the table named “coronavirus update.” All of those numbers are cumulative and will never decrease. The numbers in parentheses are daily increases, but unless you track and plot them every day, you will never see a decrease. To emphasize the inconsistency in data forwarded by the state to the newspaper, look at the following:

  1. The first time we saw new positive daily cases was April 25; however, we stopped seeing that chart May 5.
  2. The first printed use of the COVID-19 dashboard was May 6. It showed six charts, with a number of different types of calculations, making them difficult to understand. We have yet to see that chart again.
  3. On May 8, we got two new charts, both identified as five-day averages. One was percent testing positive and the other new daily positive cases.

If you review the daily coronavirus updates carefully, you’ll see the number of hospitalizations. As not all individuals testing positive are hospitalized, unless you know exactly how the state is calculating the number of hospitalizations, all you know is that there were more or fewer hospitalizations than the day before.

Nursing home death rate

On May 18, the paper indicated that nursing home deaths account for 65% of the deaths in the state. When I asked the governor’s representative if the governor was returning non-hospitalized COVID-19 nursing home patients back to their nursing homes, there was a pause, but the answer was yes. However, that policy has since been changed. The change came a bit late, and Delaware is one of 10 states whose nursing home death rate is above 60%. How did the original policy of returning patients affect the contamination rate in that facility?

Transparency of COVID-19 numbers

I believe the governor is portraying the numbers for the COVID-19 pandemic in a political manner that tramples our constitutional rights and treats us like children. By consistently showing cumulative numbers in the update, with daily numbers conveniently put in parentheses, we will never see the curve flatten or even decrease. The dashboard charts and five-day average charts come close to showing a decreasing trend, but unless the same charts are shown every day like the “coronavirus update,” we are in the dark. There is an old adage that information is power. When you have the raw data, and only share it in bits and pieces, are you sharing information, or using it conveniently?

The governor could easily open the state much faster than he is, yet his desire to maintain control will destroy many small businesses. The human misery created by the loss of those businesses cannot be measured. The governor must place a degree of trust in the citizens and business owners of Delaware as he reopens the state. I appreciate the medical ramifications of totally reopening the economy, however, the economic loss it creates brings us closer to the collapse of our economy. If that happens, there is no return.

When elected officials chose fear and control over transparency, they sow the seeds of the destruction of our democratic republic. We are not cattle or sheep to be kept penned in or herded down the path. We are intelligent and competent adults, who, when given accurate and truthful information, can and will make responsible decisions.

Frank Daniels lives in Dover and is a retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel.