I have argued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic that two gaps in our skill set as a society have been identified. The first is an understanding of how statistics work as figures have been thrown around without much understanding of what they tell us. The second has been that we have show a lack of curiosity. This links to the first. Once we understand what the data is telling us, we should follow with the question “why”?
So, I want to highlight two latest examples of a lack of curiosity. At the weekend, the figures for new cases shot up dramatically. This was described as concerning but as usual we didn’t get many questions. Now, the important thing of course is to follow the lag measures concerning hospitalisation and mortality and these will take a few weeks to feed through. So far, whilst we have seen some increase in cases since lockdown ended, we haven’t seen much by way of increase in hospitalisation.
The question however, is why the sudden increase this weekend. To be sure schools have started to go back but they have already been back in Scotland and that shouldn’t really be any different to other relaxations unless it has encouraged a dramatic change in behavioural patterns. One possibility I guess may be that we saw a cluster of sudden returns from holiday in Portugal and that will not doubt have led to some crowding at airports and also people returning specifically to avoid a potential quarantine. If I were in Government, I would want to check that out and see if the quarantine approach helps or hinders the fight against the pandemic.
The second example I would want to look at concerns the number of people with asymptomatic cases of the virus. The questions I would be asking at this stage would be “Why do some people appear asymptomatic and others not? Why do we see people living in the same house as people who experienced significant symptoms without experiencing symptoms? Why are there people that we expected to be vulnerable but they do not appear to have been? We are of course interested in the people who caught the virus and showed symptoms but we should equally be interested in those who so far have not. They may even provide the answer to defeating the disease.
I’m sure that somewhere, there are scientists asking these questions but I would expect the journalists and politicians to be asking them too. I’d be expecting people to be asked to come forward to take part in trials just as people have had symptoms have.
If we are going to beat this pandemic then we will need to encourage a greater level of curiosity.