- As the coronavirus has spread across the world, people have searched for data – number of cases, death toll, number of people tested – to predict the course of the outbreak, plan responses, and make political decisions.
- Since China was initially secret during the SARS outbreak and censored some whistleblowers and citizen journalists as the new corona virus spread, many people have wondered if they should trust the country's numbers.
- But here's why China's data can actually be trusted and how transparent the country is compared to the US approach.
- You can find more stories on the Business Insider homepage.
When the cruise ship Grand Princess approached the California coast earlier this month and carried at least 21 passengers with the coronavirus, President Donald Trump said he was hesitant to let them go – he said he didn't need to double the number because of a ship. "
At that time, the number of coronavirus cases in the US was 300. (The number rose to over 53,000 in the following weeks.) The irony is that the "number" of confirmed coronavirus cases in the US did not always increase is easy to find and track. The website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has one Corona virus landing page Theoretically, this should provide a precise overview of how many cases exist in the United States, which states or counties these patients are in, and how many tests have been performed.
But it doesn't.
The CDC no longer reports how many people have been tested for coronavirus in the United States (stats have been repeatedly removed and added to the landing page again). State and local health agencies are currently testing and reporting their cases publicly. In the event of a discrepancy between CDC cases and cases reported by state and local health authorities, state-reported data should be given the most up-to-date information . "
China still has the world's highest number of coronavirus cases – around 81,500 – but the number of new cases reported per day has decreased significantly. In the past two weeks, the country has reported fewer than 50 new coronavirus cases per day, suggesting that China has brought its outbreak under control.
Many people were reluctant to trust the data from China during this pandemic, as the Chinese Communist Party has been shown to censor whistleblowers and citizen journalists. The documented veiling and secrecy of the country during the SARS pandemic 18 years ago doesn't help either – during this outbreak, China delayed the World Health Organization's information for months.
But this time there is good evidence that we should believe China's numbers.
China's past (and current) mistakes
In 2002 and 2003, when the SARS corona virus spread worldwide, China only reported the outbreak four months after the first WHO case. Government officials ordered healthcare workers to disguise the condition of the outbreak and hide patients from WHO officials.
During the current outbreak, at least five people in China have disappeared, were arrested, or silenced after speaking about the corona virus. Police in Wuhan forced Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old doctor who warned his colleagues of the December 30 outbreak, to sign a letter saying "wrong comments." He died of the virus five weeks later.
This censorship, coupled with the legacy of the Chinese SARS response, has raised questions about the legitimacy of its coronavirus data. On February 15, a senior government official said CNBC that the White House "doesn't have much faith in the information from China".
Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Business Insider that it is in China's best interest to report accurate figures during this outbreak. This allows officials to respond effectively.
"Science-based, evidence-based decisions are certainly not only found in democracy," he said.
Huang too wrote on a CFR blog "The SARS crisis has forced Chinese leaders to take steps to be more open and transparent about disease reporting and information sharing."
Why China's Data May Be Trustable
Huang said that although the numbers that came out of China in the first few weeks after reporting the earliest cases were "probably not trustworthy," a turning point came on January 20 when President Xi Jinping publicly talked about the virus and "determined efforts." "ordered" to control the outbreak.
There is five evidence that China's coronavirus data has since been trusted.
First, Huang said, compare Chinese data to the numbers now coming from South Korea: South Korea has reported a mortality rate of less than 1%, which is the same as the mortality rate outside of the Chinese province of Hubei. According to Liang Wannian, a leading Chinese health official, the death rate in Hubei was between 3% and 4% because the provincial health system was overwhelmed by the United States Number of casesand the doctors didn't know how best to treat the virus at the start of the outbreak.
Second, during the outbreak, Hubei Province posted daily daily case and death numbers at a predictable time during the outbreak. China's other provinces were equally busy. These numbers all feed into the National Health Commission's daily coronavirus briefings, which include the total number of cases in China, the locations of these cases, and the number of suspected provincial cases.
Third, this has been made transparent, although China has changed the way cases are counted several times. On February 13, China's number of cases seemed to increase – 15,000 new cases were reported within 24 hours. However, the Hubei Health Commission announced publicly that it has started to include the total number of diagnoses made by patient lung scans, not just patients with confirmed laboratory test results. This change in the method of diagnosis has enabled hospitals to identify and isolate patients more quickly, the commission said Reuters. Although this meant the numbers jumped dramatically, China was aware of this change.
Fourth, the Chinese CDC and WHO members released a comprehensive report on February 28, detailing the status of the outbreak in China after a nine-day on-site investigation. An analysis of around 56,000 cases revealed important information about which age groups were most at risk, how patients became infected with the virus and how, when and where the virus had spread.
Fifth, WHO Chinese government and health officials reported the coronavirus outbreak within a few days of the first occurrence of cases in Wuhan. Chinese researchers also quickly mapped the coronavirus' genetic sequence, which it shared worldwide within weeks of the first case.
US Coronavirus Numbers Remaining Questions
In the United States, on the other hand, it is much more difficult to find data and information about the outbreak.
Initially, the CDC divided the number of US cases into two categories: states and repatriated cases, which can cause confusion as to how many sick Americans are actually quarantined and treated.
Second, when the number of confirmed US cases began to increase in the last week of February, the CDC did not regularly update the number of cases on its website. A state-to-state map was added on March 1, after the number of coronavirus cases quadrupled in 10 days. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said on March 2 that those who wanted to know how many cases were in their state should search for "state case counts" that are more recent than the CDC counts . "
Data on how many tests were performed in the United States are also not available on the CDC website. The agency's official test count – which had previously been updated daily – was stripped from the website added again on February 29 the following week and then restarted on March 10. It's still missing.
Test number estimates differ depending on which government agency you ask. For example, the CDC reported that 1,707 patients had been tested on March 8, but the day before, Stephen Hahn, Commissioner for the US Food and Drug Administration, suggested a number of about 5,800, according to CNN (although he said the federal government don't know how many Americans had been tested).
According to the COVID tracking project, a test tracking resource by two journalists at The Atlantic and the founder of a medical data startupBy Tuesday, 359,000 tests had been performed in the United States. However, they found that these numbers may be incomplete due to different states' guidelines for reporting negative tests.
"China's experience is not reproducible in the US"
China has tested hundreds of thousands of people for the corona virus – the joint report by the Chinese CDC and the WHO found that 320,000 tests were carried out in Guangdong Province alone between January 30th and February 16th. Part of China's incentive to test so extensively and report accurate numbers, Huang says, is that it helps structure appropriate policies in times of crisis and shows that the government works well.
According to Huang, the United States' test numbers should not be compared to those of China.
"China is a totalist state. The government can do anything and immobilize society easily," he added, adding, "In the United States, this is impossible, although we want to test every case. China's experience here is not reproducible, but it does it is wrong for the CDC to make these mistakes. "