Making sense of COVID-19 Statistics

Perspective on the numbers

Making sense of COVID-19 Statistics
Free COVID-19 testing site in the city of New Orleans. (Source: WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, you've heard a lot of numbers. Even with all the graphs and charts, it can sometimes be hard to relate.

One COVID stat shared Saturday afternoon July 11, when Louisiana Governor Jon Bel Edwards added a statewide mask mandate and shut down bars with a surge in cases highlights how what sounds like a small percentage can be a big problem.

Experts tell us in order to beat back COVID the number of people with the virus needs to be less than 10% percent of those tested. When numbers hit 15% It showed Louisiana moving in the wrong direction.

Tumulesh Solanky is the chair of the University of New Orleans Mathematics Department.

“Fifteen percent is a large number. What makes that number even more serious is that this number has been increasing over the last few weeks,” Solanky said.

Solanky said often real numbers have more impact. He said, “In general people don’t understand percentages very well. If they hear a number smaller than half. Fifty percent they think it’s not going to happen. That’s the overall perception.”

Another way to look at the numbers according to the Louisiana Department of Health website on July 8th, 2020 the positive test rate was nearly 18%. That means more than 2100 people tested positive about the same number that can sit in the lower bowl behind the Pelicans bench in the Smoothie King Center.

The total positive tests to date 84,000 and are enough people to overflow the Dome during a Saints game by 10,000

Solanky said the numbers expert said the trend charts are still our best gauge.

He said, “Anyone can look at the line and see the line is going exponentially up.”

Showing how one person spreads the virus to several others. “An exponential trend if we have 2 today, tomorrow it will be 4 the next day it will be 8,” Solanky said.

The trend chart is a moving guide to motivate us in the fight against COVID. Solanky said, “The actual numbers sometimes do not connect that well. That’s why having a visual like a trend chart where we can see that the positive rate has been steadily going up the last few weeks. I think that is a better indicator of where we are and where we are headed.”

With some work experts believe it can go in the opposite direction.

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