Rama Lam (Ding Dong), Rama Lam (Ding Ding Dong), Rama Lama Rama Lama Lama Ding Dong, Rama Lama Rama Lama Lama Ding. Oh, oh, oh. I’ve got a girl named Rama Lama, Rama Lama Ding Dong. She’s everything to me. Rama Lama, Rama Lama Ding Dong. I never set her free, ‘cause she’s mine, oh mine. Oh, oh, oh.
Sometimes things simply make no sense, just like the opening lines to the Edsels song Rama Lama Ding Dong. Written in 1958 by lead singer George “Wydell” Jones Jr, the song was actually released under the wrong title (Lama Rama Ding Dong).
Just like the lyrics to this do-wop classic, the obsession in the media with reported COVID-19 cases, and for that matter COVID-19 deaths, makes no sense. In fact, the statistics being reported are, just like the words to the song, nonsense.
Words can take on meanings of their own and are often used to portray something that they are not. A great example is the use of the word “bad” to mean “good,” which actually was first recorded in George Ade’s story of a black shoeshine boy, Pink Marsh : a story of the streets and town, which was published in 1897. It was also a common term used in jazz circles in the 1920s.
We see this kind of transliteration of words all the time in politics. Examples are the use of health care to mean health insurance, or peacemaker to mean a nuclear missile. In the world of COVID-19, we are seeing the terms cases used to mean sickness or deaths to mean people dying due to this particular virus. In both cases, just like health insurance does not mean health care the words are not equivalent.
Let’s start with the much-overhyped statistic known as cases. First taking for granted that people who test positive for COVID-19 actually have antibodies for the virus (in other words, discounting for false positive results), a positive test does not mean that the individual will ever contract any form of disease. According to CDC statistics, since the beginning of the outbreak, through September 22, in the United States, there have been 6,825,697 cases reported. In other words, 6.8 million tests came back positive. Again, assuming that these are all individual people (which again may or may not be the case) this means that 2.1 percent of the US population has tested positive for COVID-19. Of these people, a total of 55,544 have become sick enough to be hospitalized (through September 19). This means that just 0.8 percent of the people testing positive become sick enough to be hospitalized. Considering that 40.0 percent of those hospitalized were senior citizens, and caution dictates that older people go to the hospital when they have the seasonal flu, the rate of hospitalizations for people under 65 is just 0.5 percent of all cases.
With cases equaling 2.1 percent of the population, and with just 0.8 percent of those people (0.02 percent of the population), it is quite obvious that cases do not translate into sickness, at least not in any meaningful way.
What about deaths? Is this disease not so horrible that those who get sick with it die? Again, deaths do not mean dying from COVID-19. While all deaths matter, it is bad policy and bad statistical practice to simply blame them on COVID-19. First, let’s look at the overall death statistics reported by the CDC. According to the agency, there have been 199,462 COVID-related deaths through September 22. Interestingly, this is almost 4-times the number of hospitalizations, so somehow, somewhere, people seem to be dropping dead from COVID-19 without even becoming sick enough to go to the hospital.
But more importantly, what does the CDC mean by a COVID-related death. While simply put, the person who died from about anything was considered a COVID-related death if they had antibodies for the virus in their system at the time of death. Let’s start to break down this 199,462 death statistics. First, according to the CDC’s own data, just about have of these deaths (47.0 percent, are not even confirmed to be COVID-related, so the reported number is already way overinflated. Of the remaining 105,684, a huge number are associated with additional co-morbidities like heart disease, renal disease or even Alzheimer’s disease.
This is a big deal. Of the deaths being reported as COVID-related, 18.9 percent also had a heart attack. Of these deaths 16.4 percent were also due to complications from diabetes, and 3.6 percent had Alzheimer’s disease. Of the deaths being reported as caused by COVID-19, over 6,150 were actually caused by accidents and injuries. Based on CDC data, at a minimum 49.7 percent of all deaths being reported as due to COVID involved at least one other co-morbidity. This is not to say that there have been no deaths due to COVID-19, but it does show that the majority of the statistics being reported are basically meaningless.
If the COVID-19 virus is important and dangerous enough to lead to the shutdown of the US economy, to depression level unemployment, and to the bankruptcy of thousands of businesses, justifying it with Rama Lam (Ding Dong), Rama Lam (Ding Ding Dong) is simply not enough. The statistics that newscasters so breathlessly report every day, and simply no more meaningful than those nonsense words. This is not the kind of information that important policy decisions should be based on.