The Wizard of New York

Schools in a region can reopen if that region is in Phase IV of reopening and if its daily infection rate remains below 5 percent or lower using a 14-day average since unPAUSE was lifted. Schools will close if the regional infection rate rises above 9 percent, using a 7-day average, after August 1. New York State will make the formula determination during the week of August 1 to 7.”

People are easily fooled. Just throw in a bunch of numbers and they think it is scientific. Using arbitrary numbers to make decisions is what my med school professor used to call a “fun rule.” I think the rule he laughed at was one that said to delay urgent surgery for 6 weeks after an acute MI, and delay elective surgery for 6 months. There was no evidence to pick those exact numbers, but it sounded good.

My first question about Cuomo’s rule is, “How do you calculate the daily infection rate?” As I’ve said before, I remember that in high school the students who were deficient in math and science were the ones that gravitated to politics. I consider myself to be knowledgeable in science not because I am a doctor, but because I have an undergraduate degree in Astronomy and Physics. You can’t bullshit your way through Schrodinger’s wave equation.

I’ve read and re-read the school opening guidelines, but I can’t find the definition they used for daily infection rate. Is it the incidence? The prevalence? The percentage of COVID PCR tests that are positive? Surely, if his program were based on data and science, his minions would at least define daily infection rate and include an explanation in how the cutoff numbers were chosen. 

It looks like the parameter they use is the percentage of COVID swabs that are positive, but that number can vary a lot even when the prevalence of COVID remains the same. If we decide only to test the sickest people, the percentage will rise. On the other hand, if we decide to test a lot of asymptomatic people, the percentage will go down.

Even if we use a good number for the prevalence of COVID in a community, it is not science that determines when schools should open. Which cutoff number to choose is subjective. Opening schools is a value judgement based on how much one values in-person education vs. how much risk one is willing to tolerate. 

The truth is that there is nothing scientific about Cuomo’s approach. It is dressed up with the trappings of science to make it look rational and objective. Cuomo’s next bizarro poster should portray him as the Mighty Oz in the moment that Toto pulls back the curtain to show he is a fraud.  

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