Inaccurate COVID Case Numbers, Spending A Trillion Dollars To Solve Problems. April 15, 2022, Part 1
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The FDA approved a new COVID breathalyzer test, which gives results in just three minutes. It’s the first test that identifies chemical compounds of coronavirus in breath. The testing unit is about the size of a piece of carry-on luggage and is intended to be used in medical offices and mobile testing sites.
Nsikan Akpan, health and science editor at WNYC Radio based in New York City, talks with Ira about this new COVID test and other science news of the week, including new research on ocean warming and storm frequency, the story behind moon dust that sold for $500,000, and President Biden’s decision to allow higher-ethanol gasoline sales this summer, which is usually banned from June to September.
Major Undercount In COVID Cases Makes Our Tracking Data Less Useful
For many, it’s become routine to pull up a chart of COVID-19 case counts by state or county. Though imperfect, it’s been a pretty good way to assess risk levels: Follow the data.
But recently, that data has become even more imperfect, and less useful at determining individual risk. Thanks to a variety of factors, case counts are now so inaccurate that a COVID surge could be missed entirely.
“We are really flying blind,” said epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina, assistant professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health and the author of the newsletter, Your Local Epidemiologist.
Currently, for every 100 COVID-19 cases in the United States, only seven are being officially recorded, according to projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. As a point of comparison, during the Delta wave 43 out of 100 cases were recorded, and during the Omicron wave the figure was 26 out of 100 cases.
The reasons behind the current undercount are due in part to the unintended consequences of good public health policies, like increased vaccinations and the availability of at-home tests, both of which lead to fewer cases being included in official CDC data. Mild cases are more common now, thanks to vaccines and changing variants. “People may just not get tested because they just have the sniffles,” said Jetelina.
Others may forgo testing altogether. The virus can spread asymptomatically from there. “We just haven’t done the groundwork as a nation to systematically capture these cases,” said Jetelina.
How Would You Spend A Trillion Dollars?
Imagining what you might do if you won the lottery or received a huge inheritance from a long-lost relative is a classic daydream. But in a new book, journalist Rowan Hooper imagines spending a trillion dollars—not on fancy dinners, sparkly jewels or mega yachts, but on tackling ten global challenges. While a trillion dollars can’t solve every problem, he estimates it would go a long way towards tackling disease, combating global warming, protecting biodiversity, or even establishing a moon base.
Hooper joins Ira to talk about his book, How to Save the World for Just a Trillion Dollars: The Ten Biggest Problems We Can Actually Fix, and to daydream about where and how an infusion of cash might do the most to accelerate solutions to some of the planet’s problems.
Transcripts for each segment will be available the week after the show airs on sciencefriday.com.