The Daily Dose: Is the United States cooking the books when it comes to COVID-19 data?

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A recent article in The Atlantic should scare people living in America. It explains how the Center for Disease Control and many individual states have begun mixing results from the PCR-based swab tests and the serological antibody tests. Without going into detail here, let’s just say it’s mixing apples with oranges but calling everything apples. The combination renders vast amounts of data essentially meaningless, making it impossible for epidemiologists and public health officials to make informed decisions. One thing it does do… It drastically lowers the tally of confirmed cases in a short amount of time and allows states to reopen quicker. There’s more worrying aspects, so it’s well worth the read.

Researchers around the world are racing to gain a better understanding of the mysterious inflammatory condition that has been afflicting children and is tied to COVID-19. The condition resembles Kawasaki disease and the body’s immune response is believed to play a role in its onset. Scientists are also investigating whether there is a genetic element to children’s susceptibility. Kawasaki disease is much more prevalent among Asian populations. However, this inflammatory disease has yet to hit Asian countries significantly prompting the speculation that it may have something to do with the coronavirus strain that passed through Europe and into the United States and South America.

The head-scratching anti-science decisions stemming from the federal government continues apace. This time, it’s with a testing program designed to help epidemiologists understand the dynamics of the pandemic in Washington State. As per Science, “The Seattle research team that first uncovered COVID-19 spreading in US communities has been asked to stop testing for the disease. The decision by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent the SCAN project from analysing nose swabs sent from people’s homes—and reporting the results— is likely to be temporary. But it deflates local and national public-health initiatives.”

A study in Nature provided the same exact fMRI data to over 70 different scientific teams and asked them to analyze them. As you’d expect (or not, depending on how you view scientist infallibility), the conclusions varied wildly. According to the paper’s authors, “Our findings show that analytical flexibility can have substantial effects on scientific conclusions, and identify factors that may be related to variability in the analysis of functional magnetic resonance imaging. The results emphasize the importance of validating and sharing complex analysis workflows, and demonstrate the need for performing and reporting multiple analyses of the same data.”

Finally, a study published in the open access journal, PLOS One draws a direct link between education attainment and malnutrition. According to the paper, “Lower income countries and lower education groups had poorer diet, particularly for micronutrients. We demonstrate for the first time that higher educational status appeared to have a mitigating effect on poorer diet in lower income countries. It illustrates the feasibility and value of harmonising national dietary survey data to inform European policy regarding access to healthy diets, particularly in disadvantaged groups.” The good news is that facilitating increased education attainment through various local and NGO programs can have positive effects on malnutrition.

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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