Quarantine Day 18: Could President Trump Be Right?

Several days ago I used math to assess whether the Chinese government, as well as other repressive nations, were underreporting their COVID-19 numbers. Yesterday President Trump suggested that the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) were probably underreporting. To President Trump I say, welcome to the conversation.

The PRC reports the number of deaths in China due to COVID are 2,500. Meanwhile, Radio Free China (RFC) estimates that 48,000 have died. Rather than argue about PRC versus RFC estimates, let’s let mathematics determine who’s more likely telling the truth. To determine if President Trump is correct in asserting that the PRC underreports their data, we can utilize data from other countries to provide a projection of expected numbers for infections and deaths in China.

For this analysis, I’ll use data from Italy rather than the USA because Italy is further into their crisis and because we’re a kickass nation who will fair far better than the rest of the world once this is all over. Also, Italy is pretty much the worst case COVID scenario of the truthfully reporting nations and one would expect that China’s overcrowding, poor standard of living, and lack of access to quality healthcare would cause their numbers to be as bad as, if not worse than, Italy’s.

The analysis begins by determining the number of people in China, which is 1,437,843,661 (that’s “b” for billion). The Italian infection rate is currently 0.16% of their population with 11.3% of those infected dying. For comparison, US rates are currently 0.067% and 2.37% respectively. If the PRC experienced the same rates as Italy, then China would have 2,232,214 infections with 256,343 deaths. In other words, two orders of magnitude more deaths than official PRC reports.

Conclusion: Official PRC reports assert that 2,500 people have died from COVID-19 in China, while an analysis of expected deaths based on what occurred in Italy suggests the PRC number is more likely 256,343 deaths. This means – waring to CNN and other media snowflakes, look away now – President Trump is probably right to assert the PRC is underreporting their data.

Update: Yesterday we used math to determine that in order to get from 3,000 current COVID deaths in the US to the federal estimate of 250,000 deaths by April 14th, the number of US deaths would have to increase by factor of 2.34 each day. The increase in the number of US deaths from yesterday to today was a factor of 1.31. This means mitigation measures are working so far and the projected federal curve is flattening – way to go Team USA!

But wait there’s more: When we applied worst case Italian statistics to a population of 1.4 billion above, the expected number of deaths was 256k. The US population is 320 million, or 22% of 1.4 billion. This means for the US to get to 250k deaths as the federal government is projecting, we’d have to experience a scenario four times worse than what Italy (and probably China) went through. This seems unlikely since we’re a kickass country with the best healthcare system in the world and a government that is been extremely proactive. In all likelihood, the number of deaths in the US due to COVID by April 14th will be less than 50,000 and most probably somewhere between 50k and the 11.5k projected by our linear inference on 3/31, so say 30,500. So in this regard, (you can look again snowflakes), President Trump could be wrong.

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