It’s In the Wild, and There’s Not a Thing We Can Do About It

  • You just can’t avoid it. It’s in the wild.
  • Hope Hicks is a compulsive mask wearer and got sick.
  • Everyone at the debate tested negative.
  • The chance of an undetected COVID-positive individual slipping through reaches 50/50 at 47 tests.

With President Trump’s hospitalization and treatment for COVID-19, it’s time for a serious reality check.

The President lives in a bubble. Everyone who gets close to him gets checked for the CCP virus. Test positive and you’re persona non grata. This presidential bubble is functionally similar to security precautions at maximum security prisons. They work hard to avoid ever allowing drugs or weapons to enter the facility. Yet drugs are pervasive and weapons aren’t uncommon. In short, such measures don’t work, and the President’s illness demonstrates that they don’t work for diseases, either. Let’s break it down.

The Abbott BinaxNOW test gives an answer in fifteen minutes. It is reported to be 97.1% accurate for COVID-positive persons and 98.5% for negatives. This sounds really good. And, as medical tests go, it is. But this is where news outlets drop the ball. The real-world math goes like this.

For the first person tested, there’s only a 1.5% chance of a “false negative” result. This person could still be infected, but the chances are very small. When the second person is tested, the individual chance is still 1.5%. But what is the chance that two people will yield one false negative? Statisticians can give this answer in their sleep. It’s [1 – (98.5% x 98.5%)], or 2.98%. As we keep adding steps, we discover that the chance of an undetected COVID-positive individual slipping through reaches 50/50 at 47 tests.

Forty-seven? Yes, that’s the real number. More than 47 people enter the White House on any given day. As Slate notes, there’s a valid argument that this is a misuse of testing. But we’re not done. By time you reach 306 tests, there’s a 99% chance that you’ve missed an infected person. 99%. 

This doesn’t mean the test is bad. It’s actually a very good test. But testing can’t be effectively used for screening. You need 100% reliability and specificity for screening, and no test is that good. When you have to deal with a lot of people, you will get exposed. You just can’t avoid it. It’s in the wild. More on that in a minute.

The idea that Trump got the bug from Hope Hicks borders on stupidity. They became positive with a day or two of each other, meaning that they both were exposed at least a week (and maybe two) earlier. But that does not imply that they got the bug from the same source. It does not imply that Trump got the bug from not wearing a mask. Hicks is a compulsive mask wearer and got sick. And everyone at the debate tested negative.

How did he get infected? It’s almost certain that track-and-trace efforts will find some likely suspect, but it will never be proved. Further, it’s likely that the suspect will be someone who was never really sick, but maybe had a dry cough or two before his evening adult beverage in front of the “news” on the box. In short, we won’t find anything meaningful.

Before I move on, I have to note that the CDCWHO, and Oxford Center for Evidence-Based Medicine have all found “no evidence” that masks reduce the transmission of disease. But this shouldn’t be a surprise. COVID-19 and H1N1 are both spread by aerosols. And masks don’t stop aerosols, they just redirect them. Further, by looking at the spread of COVID-19 and mask wearing around the world we find that there has been no benefit from mask wearing.


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