Something interesting in the UVA COVID-19 numbers

Virginia covid-19
(© Ingo Menhard –

Did the researcher touted as a key adviser to Gov. Ralph Northam just let something slip that he shouldn’t have regarding the lethality of COVID-19?

This story starts with Bryan Lewis, an epidemiologist at the UVA Biocomplexity Institute, explaining on Monday the difference between the COVID-19 model from UVA and the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which paints a much rosier picture of where the Commonwealth is in regard to COVID-19.

The IHME model suggests that Virginia will reach its peak-resource date for hospitalizations on April 27, and on that peak-usage date, the number of hospital beds needed will be roughly one-fourth of the overall number of available beds in hospitals statewide.

The UVA model, presented Monday via a series of hard-to-follow graphs and charts, seems to suggest a continuation of Northam’s stay-at-home order far off into the future, and even with that, the state would still expect to see thousands of new COVID-19 cases weekly basically into perpetuity.

How are the models so different from one another?

According to the explanation from Lewis, the UVA model has built in the assumption that one confirmed COVID-19 case equates to about seven infections.

Let that factoid sink in for a second.

The current death rate from COVID-19 in Virginia, based on data from the Virginia Department of Health, is 2.49 percent (154 deaths, 6,171 confirmed cases).

If you assume, as the UVA computational model does, that there are seven COVID-19 cases for every confirmed case, the lethality comes down quite a bit: from 2.49 percent to 0.36 percent.

Which is still more lethal than the flu, which the CDC estimates has a mortality rate of 0.14 percent.

But, enough to justify shutting down the state indefinitely, as the governor seems to want to do?

Maybe, maybe not.

The real issue is strain on the hospital system, which according to the IHME model will only need about a quarter of its available beds for COVID-19 patients on the peak-resource usage date two weeks out.

The UVA model has resources stretched thin into the late summer, though the colorful graphs and charts don’t offer much insight into how we get to that reasoning.

The truth lies … somewhere, but it doesn’t seem like it’s getting anywhere near our governor.

The only thing clear right now is that the people of Virginia need to know more – a lot more – than we know right now.

Story by Chris Graham

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