Editorial: We need a better plan than juking pandemic statistics

The Sentinel editorial today On January 16, the number of active COVID-19 cases in Champaign County dropped 62%. Individuals with active cases are supposed to remain in isolation based to prevent further spread of the contagion for a set number of days. The quiet drop from 6,681 on Friday to 2,602 posted on the Champaign-Urbana Public Health Dashboard on Saturday was not the result of the miraculous, instantaneous disappearance of the respiratory virus that 24% of the county's population has tested positive.

It wasn't hydroxychloroquine, ivermectin, or urine responsible for the significant one-day drop in the number of infected residents in the county. Under the cover of the MLK holiday weekend, the public health quietly changed how it calculated active cases. The sharp reduction was the result of the CDC's guidance shortening the required isolation period from 10 days to five almost three weeks ago back on December 27 of last year.

The CDC said:

Given what we currently know about COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, CDC is shortening the recommended time for isolation for the public. People with COVID-19 should isolate for 5 days and if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours), follow that by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others to minimize the risk of infecting people they encounter. The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after.

The last sentence in the statement evoked a collective gasp from virologists, epidemiologists, and medical researchers around the country. The problem is people are generally still able to transmit the virus longer three days after symptoms first appear. In the eyes of a vocal majority, the motivation to shorten isolation time was not based on science, but on political capital, economics, and irresponsible public health leadership. Alas, all of this is a topic for another discussion.

The Biden Administration, taking its cue from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and desperate to placate business leaders from America's top industries, seemingly has decided to fight the Coronavirus pandemic by simply juking the stats.

"Making robberies into larcenies. Making rapes disappear. You juke the stats, and majors become colonels. I've been here before."
~ Roland 'Prezbo' Pryzbylewski
The Wire

As David Simons, creator and a writer for the hit HBO series The Wire, said years ago, it's all about the numbers.

"You show me anything that depicts institutional progress in America, school test scores, crime stats, arrest reports, arrest stats, anything that a politician can run on, anything that somebody can get a promotion on. And as soon as you invent that statistical category, 50 people in that institution will be at work trying to figure out a way to make it look as if progress is actually occurring when actually no progress is," he told Bill Moyers in a PBS interview. "I would be watching what the police department was doing, what the school system was, you know, you would look outward. But if you looked inward you'd see that the same game is played everywhere. That nobody's actually in the business of doing what the institution's supposed to do."

Let the poor and middle class get sick. Make the sick disappear. Juke the stats, so the rich keep getting richer. Welcome to Biden's pandemic response.

So instead of taking care of business and not keeping Americans safe, Biden's administration can point to the numbers and claim, "Look, we've created policies that reduced the number of people who have Covid. We've put the economy back on track."

At what cost now and in the future?

Washington and the CDC need a better plan. Sorry, but manipulating the numbers is not it. Nor is treating Americans like livestock, culling and trying to reach a state of herd immunity through involuntary infection. America's greatest asset is not its economy but its people.