Clay Travis said another stupid thing. And this time it actually matters.

Personally, I think Clay Travis is kind of a dipshit.  But he’s not really causing any harm by being a dip shit sports writer.  No matter what his takes are on SEC football, they aren’t life or death, and he’s easy enough to ignore (which I usually do). But recently he wrote a piece downplaying the risks of coronavirus that went beyond just being a regular dipshit sports writer, and crossed into the “guy who is totally full of shit writes about something he knows nothing about and puts people’s lives at risk” territory. And since I have a deep personal policy that when people are full of shit, they should be called out for being full of shit, I have decided to write this post.  And Clay Travis is full of shit.

This kind of writing is really, actually dangerous.  First of all, he has a shit ton of followers (650+ thousand on twitter) who tend to demographically skew younger, and at least some of them will take what he is saying seriously.   What I’m saying it that this article almost definitely led to some people taking too casual a stance on the risks of coronavirus.  I mean if I was a junior at Mississippi State and I read this piece a week ago, I definitely would have gone on spring break.  (Even though every epidemiologist in the entire country would have told me not to go).

Coronavirus is a really dangerous virus, and its definitely not “just like the flu”.  In the interest of full disclosure, I was a “this is just a flu” guy in early February.  I even tweeted out “Thousands of people die of the seasonal flu every year, but let’s panic about coronavirus”.  But turns out I was wrong.  This isn’t the seasonal flu.  Dr. Fauci, someone with actual expertise in this, unlike Clay Travis, predicts at this point that there will be millions of infections and 100,000 – 200,000 deaths from Coronavirus.  And worse case scenarios, with no interventions, again from actual experts, were up to 2.2. million American deaths and 500K in England.  So I was wrong on Feb 1. It turns out this shit is serious. (It’s ok to be wrong and change your mind when you get new information!) New York City is breaking records for 911 calls.  One hospital in New York is describing what’s happening there as “It’s what was happening in Italy”.  But you wouldn’t know any of this by reading C’Lay Travis as he boldly proclaimed on March 18, less than two weeks ago, that:

Coronavirus Infections Are Likely To Peak Next Week

This is completely not true.  It was a stupid thing to say then, and its proven to be so very, very wrong since then.  As such, I’e decided to go through the article and give my comments on it.  (My comments are in bold.  Clay’s original article is in italics.)

I know there is coronavirus doom and gloom everywhere you look on social media right now — in particular with viral predictions of millions of coronavirus deaths on the horizon — but I believe most people are missing the key detail in this outbreak: the number of daily new infections.

The “viral predictions of millions of coronavirus deaths” are actually from a team at Imperial College London led by Neil Ferguson, a professor of mathematical biology.  

Don’t focus on the raw numbers of infection or their growth or death rates — the kind of fear porn you see peddled far and wide on social media — just look at the rates of daily new infection that have occurred in coronavirus outbreaks around the globe and you can divine, to a great extent, what the future is likely to hold.

I think the growth rates and the death rates are EXACTLY what we should be focusing on.  The US is currently on pace to have the number of deaths double every 3 days.  This is above both Iran and China at this point in their outbreaks.  We are still below Italy, but we are on pace to pass Italy in terms of cumulative deaths in under 5 days.  

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As a preliminary, yes, I am a lawyer who now makes a living writing and talking primarily about sports. No, I am not an epidemiologist and I’m not a doctor either. So if you don’t want to read any further or want to denigrate my opinions for that reason, you’re certainly entitled to that perspective.

When the coronavirus outbreak started, I was messing around with the data and making a few posts about SIR models.  But in retrospect I don’t think I should have done this.  Because I’m not an epidemiologist nor a medical doctor (but I am a doctor!).  But I’m way closer to someone who should be commenting on this than a former lawyer who is a below average sports writer. 

That being said, I’m not denigrating Travis’ opinions because he isn’t an epidemiologist nor a medical doctor; I’m denigrating them because they are shitty opinions that aren’t based on reality or data or facts.  

But for the rest of you, let me cite my primary source here at the beginning, I am using this website which has been fantastic at providing factually accurate and up to the date infections around the world.

This site he cites seems to be pretty good.

For those of you who have watched, read or listened to my opinions over the years you know that I love to devour data and I’m not afraid to have opinions that run contrary to the masses. Sometimes those opinions focus on sports, other times they deal with politics, media, or business. When I become fascinated by a subject, I can’t stop thinking about it, I want to consume all the information I can about a particular subject.

When those opinions are about sports, politics, the media, or business, no matter how bad (and believe me they are bad opinionsSo bad.)  But these opinions about a global pandemic can cause actual harm.  For some reason, Mr. Travis has about 650+ thousand twitter followers.  That’s enough people who read his stuff to do some real damage.  

And for the past month I have been absolutely fascinated by the coronavirus outbreak around the world. I’ve spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours reading about this virus and studying the public data arising from outbreaks in countries all over the world.

Many nights in the past several weeks, especially since sports has been shut down, I have slept three or four hours because I haven’t been able to stop devouring information before waking up at 4:30 in the morning to do my national sports talk radio show. And for those of you who have listened, watched or read what I’ve been saying you know that I’ve been more optimistic about America’s ability to withstand this viral outbreak than most people have.

Optimism is a great thing.  I just don’t know how anyone can look at the data that we are seeing now, or on March 18th when he wrote this, and be that optimistic.  

As a result I’ve been denigrated online by many media members with blue checkmarks by their names on Twitter for not being enough of an alarmist, for downplaying the threat of the coronavirus to our nation’s health. That hasn’t been my intent at all, my intent, as it always is, has simply been to share factual data with my audience. As I always say, you can disagree with the opinions I come to based on the underlying facts, but I struggle to ensure I get all my facts right, especially in cases such as these.

But Clay got all the facts wrong here.  

While most in the United States have been focusing on the United States outbreak I’ve paid quite a bit of attention to what’s happened in China, South Korea and Japan.

Why?

Because all three of these countries had coronavirus outbreaks before ours and all three had essentially ended the viral outbreaks in their respective countries before our outbreak really took root. That is, the factual evidence clearly established that when these countries attacked the spread of the virus, they succeeded.

This is correct.  But South Korea from the very beginning had much higher rates of testing and dealt with the real threat that it was much earlier and more seriously that the United States did.  What South Korea was doing to prevent the spread of the disease, the United States has not done.  

Interestingly, all three countries took different paths to end that outbreak — China, with the worst outbreak in the world to this point, was more draconian in its restrictions, while South Korea and Japan handled their outbreaks with much less significant disruptions to their economies and daily life.

But again, South Korea had robust testing in place whereas “The blundering lack of an effective testing program in the US is an unconscionable failure and has led (and will lead) to more transmission of COVID-19.” Comparing the United States to South Korea (or Japan or China) is not a very reasonable comparison.  

Certainly in the months and years ahead it will make a great deal of sense to study every country’s response in an effort to find out the best possible model to adopt for future pandemics, but as I write this China, South Korea, and Japan have a total of 126 new infections today.

This means all three countries have effectively ended the viral outbreaks they were combating. (It’s certainly possible the virus could re-emerge in the future, but right now it seems to be beaten).

He is right that all of those countries have done a very good job “flattening the curve”.  

Now let’s pivot to our country.

Yesterday the United States saw our highest number of new infections to date, adding 1748 new cases. (It’s important to note that daily “new” cases doesn’t mean new in the context of they just happened. “New cases” are the result of infections that generally occurred five or more days in the past.)  As I write this we are on track to exceed yesterday’s number of daily new infections again today and probably for the next several days as well. (If you watch the White House press briefings and listen to Dr. Birx –who has been PHENOMENAL in speaking to the media, alongside of Dr. Fauci — she forecast this occurrence several days ago. Letting astute listeners know that as the testing ramped up in a big way in this country the number of infections would surge as well.)

While Dr. Birx has received some praise, she has also been substantially criticized. Harvard Epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch for instance described Birx’s takes like this: 

Lipsitch called Birx’s characterization of the current coronavirus situation in the U.S. “rosy” and even “deceptive.”

But, and this is key, despite the number of new daily infections that doesn’t mean the virus is continuing to spread at this rapid of a rate, it means that we are catching up to the infections that have already occurred in the days and weeks prior to our aggressive action. That is, since the average incubation for this virus is five days, pretty much everyone testing positive today got the virus before the social distancing and quarantines began in substantial numbers in this country.

He’s not entirely wrong here.  It was possible that the rate would slow.  But given that there are still huge areas of the country that weren’t doing social distancing then (and some areas STILL aren’t doing it!), there was no reason to believe that the rates would go down.  

Right now the fear porn purveyors — all too many of whom are in the media — are spinning these infection numbers as hard as they can to terrify people and convince them we are about to descend into abject despair. That our efforts to combat the virus are failing. But the number of daily new infections is a rearguard action, it’s measuring where we were several days ago in the fight against the virus, not where we are today.

He really needs to cite specific examples here of where the media is “spinning these infection” numbers.  I’d love to see what he was talking about.  “Our efforts to combat the virus” do seem to be too little too late in a bunch of places.  A lot of states in the US didn’t put in stay at home orders until after Travis wrote this article and some states STILL haven’t made stay at home orders (i.e. Florida).  So I’m not sure why anyone thought that the rates of infections would slow.  

And I think that means most of the people panicking in this country right now are missing the signal amid the noise.

Peak new daily infection rates in this country are closer than most think and, and this is significant, hitting a daily new infection peak is a very good thing because it signals we are moving to the backside of our outbreak.

This claim isn’t supported at all by any thing available right now let alone on March 18th when this was written.  I have no idea where he got this idea from.  

And I think we’re going to hit peak new daily infections very soon.

So at the time we had had two days in a row (March 16 and 17) with 22 and 23 deaths, respectively.  On March 18, there were only 10 deaths.  But the overall trend in deaths and confirmed cases was growing right on track with exponential growth and the very next day, March 19, there were 82 deaths recorded.  

Travis has since been proved monumentally wrong, with each of the last 9 days having more deaths than the previous one including March 28 when there were 445 deaths, the most in a day yet.  (Source: Johns Hopkins)

How soon?

Well, the data in other countries suggests that our peak daily infection rate is likely to come next week.

Again, it makes no sense to compare the United States to other countries that had testing in place very early and took the threat seriously from the beginning.  On March 18, we were already on a different than South Korea and Japan.  On March 18, out exponential adventure was just beginning.  Japan and South Korea had already flattened.  Here is what those countries looked like on March 18.  So it’s really hard to defend these statements given the information that he had at the time.  

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Since then, he’s been even wrongerer: 

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(Source: Johns Hopkins)

How can I project this?

By looking at what already happened in China, Japan and South Korea.

I mean, again, this makes no sense.  Notably South Korea had testing WAY, WAY, WAY ahead of the US.  South Korea was doing proportionally about 6X the amount of testing the US was by the middle of March.  And in February the US was basically doing no testing: 

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As I said earlier in this article, those countries have a total of 126 combined new infections today.

That’s because once their infection rate began to decline it do incredibly rapidly, the inverse of the rapid rise.

In other words this virus ramps up rapidly, but it also declines rapidly.

There were  several counter-examples to this even at the time including Iran and Italy.  

Okay, some of you are saying, but those Asian countries did X, Y, and Z and we aren’t doing X, Y, and Z!

Yup.  So why bother even saying it! 

Well, let’s leave Asia behind and move to Europe, in particular to Italy, which has been the fear porn proxy for  most American social media users. “ITALY, ITALY, ITALY THEY WAIL! Look at the curve in Italy! We match it perfectly we are never going to be able to survive!”

Yes, Italy has suffered a substantial loss of life — 2503 as I write this afternoon — but as a result of this loss of life Italy has undertaken drastic measures to fight the virus. And, significantly, these drastic measures work and they appear to work rapidly against the virus.

Italy recorded its 10,000th death on March 28.  They have begun to flatten their curve.  The United States is about 8 or 9 days behind Italy and it’s true we haven’t seen the same rates of growth in the death rate at Italy, but we also haven’t flattened out curve at all.  Additionally, we are on pace to pass Italy in deaths in around 4 days. 

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On March 14th Italy hit 3,497 daily new infections. On March 15th Italy hit 3,590 new infections, the viral peak for daily new infections so far in their country. Then came 3,233 new infections on March 16th and 3,526 on March 17th. Now it’s still possible, of course, that the number of new daily infections could pop above 3,590, the present high set on March 15th — update they did on 3/18 after I clicked publish — but even with a still vacillating total infection number it seems pretty clear that at a minimum Italy has hit an infection plateau. (The number of daily deaths also peaked in Italy on March 15th at 368 — a new peak death rate came on March 18th after publication — and has declined since then.)

Does it seem “pretty clear that at a minimum Italy has hit an infection plateau” based on the plot below?  I have no idea how anyone could make that statement looking at the plot below.  

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And in fact, Travis was wrong, again.  Daily deaths in Italy have continued to grow including 919 and 889 on March 27 and 28, respectively.  Not exactly a plateau.  

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Far from being an example of exponential growth run wild, Italy stopped the coronavirus’s growth of daily new infections in its country in the space of a week. (This is why so many of these viral epidemiologist studies that go viral on social media are worthless. All of them presume nothing changes. If you want a fascinating read about a man who saw all this before the Chinese outbreak ended, go read the opinion of Micheal Levitt, a biophysicist who won the Nobel prize in chemistry.

In the second paragraph so this article, it states “Although his specialty is not in epidemiology” and the article should have ended there.  This exact phenomenon of armchair epidemiology is exactly why I stopped doing any analysis (other than simple graphs) of coronavirus.  This guy is clearly really smart.  But he’s not an epidemiologist.  He’s a guy who knows a lot about Chemistry.  I’m not saying that this guy couldn’t do epidemiology, but this “analysis” that he did seems relatively ad hoc.  There are plenty of other better places to get information on this from actual epidemiologists who have been studying this exact stuff for decades.  So I’ll continue to play around with the data privately, but I won’t be posting any analysis because, it was pointed out to me, that misinformation and weak analysis can be very dangerous.  When someone screws up an analysis on sports data, it doesn’t put anyone in danger.  

Here’s the essence of Levitt’s analysis from that article: “The rate of infection of the virus in the Hubei province increased by 30% each day — that is a scary statistic. I am not an influenza expert but I can analyze numbers and that is exponential growth.”

Had the growth continued at that rate, the whole world would have become infected within 90 days. But as Levitt continued to process the numbers, the pattern changed. On February 1, when he first looked at the statistics, Hubei Province had 1,800 new cases a day. By February 6, that number had reached 4,700 new cases a day.

But on February 7, something changed. “The number of new infections started to drop linearly and did not stop,” Levitt said. “A week later, the same happened with the number of the deaths. This dramatic change in the curve marked the median point and enabled better prediction of when the pandemic will end. Based on that, I concluded that the situation in all of China will improve within two weeks. And, indeed, now there are very few new infection cases.”  

Yeah.  But again, China basically shut everything down.  It took a lot for them to stop the spread.  And the US hasn’t done nearly enough.  

Back to Italy, the data now reflects that from this point forward their infections will begin to descend, just like happened in China. And if Italy’s infection rate descends like they did in China, Japan and South Korea that will be a rapid descent which will allow a rapid return to normal life.

There was actually no evidence this would happen then, and it definitely didn’t happen.  

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Now Italy appears to be further along in its viral outbreak than either France, Spain, Germany, or England are, but the lessons of Italy appear to reinforce the lessons of China, Japan and South Korea. Indeed, both France and Spain also appear to be close to hitting their peak numbers of new daily infections also. (By the way, the most interesting data point I have seen is from Germany. Somehow Germany has 11,973 infections and only 28 deaths. That’s a death rate for infected patients of .23%. What are they doing better than everyone else? Because that rate of death is very similar to the flu.)

Once again, Travis was wrong.  The black line is where Travis claimed that France and Spain were “close to hitting their peak numbers”.  Not sure how he reach that conclusion, but he was…….not correct.  

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It IS interesting that Germany has a lower death rate.  But there are a ton of possible reasons for that.  

Which is why if you extrapolate the data from China, Japan, South Korea, Italy, France and Spain to the United States then it seems highly likely that our rate of new daily infection will peak sometime late next week.

Firsr off, extrapolation is dangerous in general. Extrapolation by a below average sports writer is really, really dangerous.  Second, if he had actually extrapolated using exponential growth, he would have been more or less correct on Spain and France.  

From that point forward we will be on the backside of this particular outbreak and our daily infection rate will decline rapidly.

Nope. 

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That is, I believe rates of daily new infection in America will peak and then begin to drop precipitously starting at the end of next week. That doesn’t mean that new hotspots might not emerge around the United States or that our fight against the coronavirus is over, but it does means there’s a very good chance the worst of our outbreak will have passed by next week.

Nope. 

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We will, in the words of Dr. Fauci, have flattened the curve.

As mentioned before, Dr. Fauci just today estimated there would be 100,000 – 200,000 deaths in the US.  

What does that mean for America?

Well, since this is primarily a sports site it means our sports may well return faster than we thought. Already the KBA and CBA, the two pro basketball associations in Korea and China, are preparing to start back up their leagues in those countries.

Sites that are “primarily sports” are probably the least equipped to do arm chair epidemiology.  I have a Ph.D. in statistics and did a post-doc in a school of public health, and even I’m refraining from doing any (more) armchair epi.  And I’m way closer to qualified to do it.  

But, much more significantly, it also means our economy may well bounce back more rapidly than many fear. Hopefully by early to mid-April we can begin to embrace a bit more normalcy in our lives once more.

Nope. 

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And in what might be the most lasting legacy of this outbreak, hopefully we will have put in place a series of pandemic systems to allow us to respond more rapidly to more significant and deadly outbreaks that might arise in the future.

At this point I would like to remind people that Donald Trump shut the federal pandemic office in 2018.

The good news is this virus is (probably) not going to kill you and we (likely) only have about a week until we hit the viral peak of new daily infections in America. Loss of life will be in the thousands, at most, and not the tens of thousands or the hundreds of thousands or the millions as the most terrifying of these forecasts have suggested. That doesn’t mean you should stop social distancing and staying at home if you’re ill, by the way, but it does mean that this containment is likely going to work very, very well.

We are on pace to hit 10000 in 6 days.  This is such an egregiously incorrect statement to make a week ago when this article was written.  Not a single expert I have read would have agreed with Travis last week and he’s going to be proven wrong in about 6 days (unless somehow there is a miracle).  

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What should you do if you believe my forecast is accurate? Buy stocks. I believe Wall Street has baked in far worse expectations than what the reality of this coronavirus will represent.

So if you like getting your epidemiology advice from a shitty sports writer, why not also get investment advice!  The stock market has gone up since this article was written after the passage of the $2 trillion bail out.  It will be really interesting to see what happens to the stock market in the next year.  And Travis may well be right that you should be buying stocks.  But what’s that saying about a dead clock?  

That’s why I spent all morning buying stocks myself. Yes, I’m putting my money where my mouth is.

The stock market could skyrocket in the next 6 months, and Travis would make a bunch of money.  In fact, I hope the market goes up and I wish him all the best in his investments.  But he’s still be wrong about his coronavirus projections.  

And, by the way, if you hate me and you believe I’m totally wrong in my forecast, you’re entitled to that opinion as well. Indeed, if I personally end up dying of the coronavirus, you have my full permission to make as much fun of me as possible on social media.

To make fun of someone who died of coronavirus, you’d have to be an absolutely shitty person.  I do very much dislike Clay Travis, but I don’t want him to die and I certainly won’t make fun of him if he does die.  That is unthinkably shitty.  

“Writer who said no one would die of COVID 19 dies of COVID 19” is a hell of a headline.

I’d click on that link.

And like most of you I’d be too busy to actually read the article, but I would make a witty and sarcastic comment and share it with all my followers, ensuring it was one of the top trending topics for the day. So have at it.)

The reality is, spoiler alert, we’re all going to die.

But the evidence from around the world suggests that for the vast, vast majority of us, it won’t be from this virus.

This I agree with.  We are all going to die.  And for the vast, vast majority of us, coronavirus won’t kill us.  But it’s possible that most of us will personally know someone who dies from corona.  

That is all for now.  Stay safe.  Stay home.  Here is what to do if you get sick. And please, please, please, don’t get your pandemic information from dipshit sports writers.  (Or dipshit constitutional scholars).

Cheers. 

Posted on March 30, 2020, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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