The most incredible COVID statistic…

I’ve heard or read this stat several times:

29 large universities including Notre Dame, the University of North Carolina, and Illinois State had reported some 26,000 cases by Sept. 9 yet no hospitalizations.

I used to frequently remind my students that incredible means not credible … and, this stat certainly sounded incredible … so, I largely ignored it.

But, when the statistic was repeated in the WSJ, I decided that it was worth looking into.

Here’s what I found…


Ground-zero for the claim is a chart  tweeted by a  Brown Univ. prof.


Yep, the chart — complete with footnoted sources — shows 29 universities, 25,941 cases and zero reported hospitalizations.

Teaching point: If you want to convey credibly, always state a precise number — not one that has been rounded up or down

Of course, lock-downers immediately started picking lint off the chart:

  • 29 is a small, non-projectible sample
  • “Reported” isn’t the same as “actual”
  • May be admitted to campus infirmaries that are not technically “hospitals”.
  • “Heard about a hospitalization at Podunk U.”

So, the NY Times pounced on the story and extended the survey to 1,600 colleges.

The NY Times’ survey counted “at least 88,000 cases” and “only a small number” of hospitalized students .

OK, so the number isn’t zero … it’s just very close to zero.

That’s good enough for me.


But, there’s more to the story…

The Times’ survey also found “at least 60 COVID-related deaths” among college employees … and Times’ supplementary reporting indicates COVID surges among residents of college towns.

The implied conclusion: Infected students may not suffer COVID consequences, but they can spread the virus to vulnerable people.

That suggests the need for campus containment,  frequent testing and fast, quarantines.

And, for sure, test students before Thanksgiving recess … and don’t send them home if they test positive.

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