COVID: Two False Narratives

It’s not farfetched, if you stop to consider it. CNN’s viewers expect them to… how to put this diplomatically?… to err on the side of safety (and if at all possible, the Democratic Party). And Fox’s audience is used to them opposing CNN as much as is possible. So it’s not at all unreasonable to expect that both narratives are, as AOC famously put it, factually incorrect but morally right.

In this particular example, the narratives are driven by different ways to measure the danger of COVID. Fox uses the population mortality rate (PMR) because it’s low; CNN uses the case mortality rate (CMR) because it’s high enough to be alarming. And both numbers by themselves are completely meaningless. Here’s why.

Let’s say you’re trying to figure out the answer to a simple question: How safe is it for me to fly to Florida over Thanksgiving?

The Fox News number tells you (wrongly) that you’ve only got a one in a hundred thousand chance of dying from COVID, so why not fly? The CNN number tells you (also wrongly) that COVID has a 25% chance of causing you severe physical harm, so don’t be stupid — stay home and order turkey from Boston Market.

What you actually need to know are the answers to three questions:
– How likely am I to be exposed to COVID if I’m flying on a plane?
– If I’m exposed on a plane, how likely am I to catch COVID?
– If I catch COVID, how likely is it to be serious?

Roughly speaking, answer each of those questions and multiply the odds together, and that’s the actual risk. But no news channel is telling you any of this, presumably because they’re too busy fighting the 2024 elections. Or maybe they think you’re too stupid to calculate odds; who knows?

Let’s start with that last question, because that’s one that we can actually find the answer to — again, roughly. The appropriate statistic to look at is the Infectious Fatality Rate, or IFR. (Some call it the IMR, or use different words.) That’s the literal answer to the question: If a random person gets infected, how likely are they to die as a result?

No major agency reports this, mainly because it’s an almost impossible question to answer. The population rate (PMR) would be equivalent only if (1) everyone in the population catches it, and (2) nobody could catch it twice — both of these, of course, are untrue to an almost absurd degree. The case rate (CMR) would be equivalent if every case got reported, but due to the near-50% incidence (more or less) of asymptomatic COVID, that too is far from true. Then too, even that would change; vaccines make it less dangerous, and hospital therapies have advanced dramatically over time. On the other hand, the death numbers lag case numbers by several weeks, and… Well. There are a ton of factors. But the bottom line is, the IFR works out to around 1%, and is much lower for the vaccinated.

I’m not going to answer that question — not today, anyway; the math gets complicated.

Which is exactly my point. What you hear on the news is simplified and sensationalized, often to such an extent that the information it gives you is meaningless. On the other hand, nobody has time enough in their lives to study all the factors on their own, run a risk assessment model for every decision, and then act accordingly — and what’s true for childless urban dwellers is rarely the case for a family of eleven that lives ten miles from West Overshoe.

As far as COVID goes… well, by now you know my advice: Wear a mask, get your shots, and stay home if you can. We’re just a few months away from a simple pill that treats it; hang on a little longer and you’ll be a lot happier in the end.

Oh yes: And the news media is lying to you. Always, even if they don’t mean to. Fox News and CNN both.


If what you just read pisses you off, that’s because it’s what nobody else is telling you. That sort of thing is valuable — how valuable is up to you. We offer two options: You can send cash to PayPal in order to help support us, or you can buy us a coffee. We can use the morale boost — and the caffeine, particularly now that post-COVID fatigue has set in.

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