Charlie’s done it again. It is becoming increasingly clear that one way to fight the pandemic in Massachusetts is to move the goalposts if the numbers are worsening. (This is a variant of the idea that if you pretend there is no coronavirus, then there is no coronavirus. Here’s looking at you, lame duck president).
That can be done in several ways. First, stop reporting a measure if it doesn’t look as good as it did previously. For example: drop suspected cases from the count of patients in the hospital, in the ICU, or intubated. That way, you can make the increase in the number of hospitalizations look smaller. Or hide statistics on the test positivity rate based on individuals, not tests.
Here’s another idea: change the way a particular statistic is measured to make things look better. The latest example: the color coding system used to define risk levels across communities in the state. The state has redefined the four risk-level color codes (red, yellow, green, and grey) so that it is much more difficult for a community to fall into the red (riskiest) zone, even as cases and test positivity increase rapidly.
Table 1 is a comparison of the community level data through October 31 (the latest data available) showing the difference between the old and new coding systems.
|Table 1: Comparison of Old and New Community Color Coding|
|City and Town Data Two Weeks Ending October 31,2020|
|Old Coding % of State Population
|New Coding % of State Population
|Old Coding Number of Cities/Towns||155||67||9||120|
|New Coding Number of Cities/Towns||16||91||79||165|
For example, 71% of the state’s population would be living in cities or towns coded at the highest risk level) if the state were still reporting using the old system. This is 155 out of the 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth. But redefine the color codes, and presto, only 15% of the population in 16 cities and towns are in the red zone. Under the old criteria, only 8% of the population is now living in cities and towns classified as green or grey (the lowest risk level). But under the new system, 37% of the population lives in those low-risk communities.
We get it Charlie – you want to get students back into the classroom. But why not make your case with consistent measures of community risk over time? And while I’m at it, the travel restrictions are a joke. Only travelers from other states with case rates of fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 people per day are exempt from a 14 day quarantine on arrival in Massachusetts (not that anybody is taking this seriously anyway). This is from a state that has a case rate of over 15 cases per 100,000 people per day. Huh?