Amateur Coronavirus Trackers Weigh In On the Numbers

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Steve Abramson

David Beard is a numbers guy, to put it lightly.

His father was a mathematics professor at The University of Maine, where he was raised to be analytical, growing up with exponential factors and intervals as a second language. He developed a keen eye for finance, leading him to a 33-year career on Wall Street before he and two partners, Matthew Hartline and Cristina Thorp, acquired Bill Miller & Associates, a tree, shrub and hedge care firm in Water Mill, last September.

And with just six months of experience under his belt, all it took was one look at the COVID-19 statistics on March 17 for Mr. Beard to realize he needed to send his employees home and temporarily shut down — leaving him, and his staff, wondering when they could reopen.

To remove any emotion from the ultimate decision, Mr. Beard turned back to the county, state and even worldwide numbers, and began tracking them on his own — confident that his findings would help him make the most informed, and scientific, determination.

“As soon as we made that decision to close, I started thinking, ‘Okay, how are we gonna open the company back up?’” Mr. Beard said. “There were still companies operating. Some weren’t, some had to shut down. It’s been a mishmash the whole time. It feels very emotional as a new business owner. I said, ‘We need some data.’ And the single-most important piece of data is new cases. It all starts with new cases.”

At first, Mr. Beard kept his numbers on a spreadsheet for himself. Then, he passed it along to a few friends, who asked to send it to their friends, and so on. Now, he sends out a daily e-blast to almost 100 contacts, from old business school comrades to fellow business owners.

And he isn’t alone.

A handful of East End residents are taking the novel coronavirus numbers into their own hands — tracking them, charting them and drawing their own conclusions before distributing their findings via email to, in the case of David Buda, a 400-member mailing list primarily composed of Springs Concerned Citizens members.

“People are very interested and concerned,” Mr. Buda said. “Obviously, this is of momentous, historic proportions. I’m getting people contacting me and asking to get on my list, and people are spreading it around because this is obviously important to everyone to be informed.”

Compiled by Steve Abramson, the tracked COVID-19 numbers show the 10-day moving average as a predictive indicator of a steady decline since the pandemic’s peak in April. COURTESY STEVE ABRAMSON

With myriad online sources to gather the numbers, Steve Abramson noticed a lack of reporting on the 10-day moving average — which, to the Water Mill resident, seemed to be the most telling.

“I started plotting it daily, and I was also plotting the percentage to the number of new tests being given, because that is also reported,” he explained. “When you do a 10-day moving average, it smooths out the bumps, and we have what is, really, an unbelievably straight line going down as of April 14, almost to the point where it looks like it’s totally predictive. We’ll soon find out.”

There are, inevitably, gaps in the data — including the percentage of false positives and the accuracy rate of the tests — leaving Mr. Abramson to wonder what could happen to the downward trend if social distancing mandates are lifted too soon.

“We may be on a down curve, but we’re still hot,” he said. “Let’s make no question about that. We are still hot. Look, it’s encouraging to see it go down, but I can tell you, at the same time, personally, we know one person dead from this.”

“The fact that we know people who have faced the consequences of this thing are the real wrecker,” he added, “not the numbers.”

Two weeks ago, Mr. Buda decided to keep disseminating his local news roundup on the pandemic, but stopped plotting the numbers altogether, given the new reporting protocol that lumps active positive cases with antibody cases, which resulted in a dramatic increase with no explanation.

It’s apples and oranges, so to speak, he said.

“It’s difficult to interpret. It’s a different data measurement, and it’s confusing to everyone,” he said. “The fact that someone was exposed, didn’t develop symptoms, never had the test for the virus, developed antibodies and is now out there, if anything, that tends to show there’s a greater chance of herd immunity and has nothing to do with prevalence or likelihood of transmitting the disease because they’re not active. So what’s the point? It has a point, but it’s not the same point. It’s a whole different metric.”

“It’s a different count now and the information is getting — at this point in the pandemic — it’s becoming less and less meaningful,” he added. “As far as I’m concerned, the focus now should be on restoring normalcy and getting back to business.”

As the Trump administration has encouraged states to reopen their economies, the New York Times reported that the White House is projecting a steady rise in coronavirus infections, and subsequent deaths, over the next two weeks — rocketing to 3,000 daily fatalities on June 1, nearly double the current number.

“We are unprepared,” Mr. Abramson said. “So how do I feel about opening? I think that while there’s some kind of rush and imperative to open, there should be an even greater rush and imperative to get tests produced, get them out, get them done. That’s a federal job and they should be doing it. Everybody should have it across the country, no questions asked. We shouldn’t be flying blind.”

He sighed. “It’s mindboggling — such mismanagement,” he continued. “The scale of this, and the report on this when this is all finished and said and done, and history looks back on this, it’s gonna be a very sad episode.”

As he considers reopening, Mr. Beard said he will continue to closely monitor the numbers before coming to any decision — and hopes they will help other business owners, too, depending on their geography.

“When I look at this, there’s a different policy for the world, given how the virus has shifted from Spain to Russia, and from Italy to the U.K. and Brazil, and same here,” he said. “New York has declined, and even when you look at Suffolk County, making policy in Suffolk County is different than what’s going on on the East End, and then it’s different east of the canal versus west of the canal.

“I tend to come down to, at the end of the day, that people are inherently good and most of them will do the right thing,” he continued. “But not everybody will, and that’s where this can help show everybody, ‘It’s time to go hide because of how the exponential function of these work,’ and now it’s probably time to say, ‘The numbers are looking a little better.’

Watching the data over time gives you an emotional anchor. It’s not meant to suppress your emotions, or amplify them. It’s meant to get them balanced and rational — because the numbers are the numbers.”

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