Liberal Arts Blog — COVID — So Many Numbers, So Many Stories, So Many Agendas

Liberal Arts Blog — Monday is the Joy of Math, Statistics, and Numbers Day

Today’s Topic — COVID — so many numbers, so many stories, so many agendas

Let’s play a game. Let’s call it the Covid triptych game. A triptych is the name I have chosen for the three-part format of my daily posts. Every day I get up and try to come up with three things to say related to some topic of interest to me and hopefully at least one other person out there. I try to weave together words, images, and numbers whenever possible. Ideally in some sort of logical sequence. Usually, falling far short of my hopes but giving it my best shot. Well, I doubt there is any topic of more interest to more people right now than Covid. So how about a little triptych crowd-sourcing? Let the first part be the math part. Of all the numbers out there what are the ones most worth focusing on? The second part would be a level one explanation for those numbers. Think the usual suspects. Or the proximate causes. The third part would be a level two explanation — the deeper causes, the structural causes. Experts — please give us a hand here. A little morning brain stretch.

THE MATH: THE US IS AN OUT-LIER — are these the three most important numbers to focus on? if not, which are?

1. “Over the past month 1.9 MM Americans have tested positive for the coronavirus. That is more than five times as many as all of Europe, Canada, South Korea, Japan, and Australia combined.”

2.”With only 4 percent of the world’s population, the United States has accounted for 22% of coronavirus deaths.”

3. “Black and Latino residents of the United States have contracted the virus at roughly three times as high of a rate as white residents.”

NB: Counting differently (see the second link), using “confirmed deaths per capita” (as of 6/30/20) these countries came out worse than the US: Belgium (839.72), the United Kingdom (640.99), Italy (574.18), Sweden (522.81) and France (456.20). The US: 379.27.

PROXIMATE CAUSES — Trump, Politicization, SARS, MERS

1. Trump administration ineptitude.

2. Politicization of the issue — opportunity to point fingers and play the blame game. There are in fact no easy answers when you look at all the costs to all the players over all time horizons. The poster child of this inconvenient fact is the issue of re-opening schools. So there’s a simple answer is there? Hmmm.

3. Diversity, the inconsistency of “expert opinion” — eg. on the subject of masks versus hand washing or trade-offs between economic versus public health costs or between the cost to young and old.

NB: Countries like South Korea, Singapore had the advantage of having been through SARS or MERS recently.

DEEPER CAUSES — Libertarianism/Individualism, Federalism, no culture of mask-wearing

1. Americans don’t like being told what to do. “As an American, I think there is a lot of good to be said about our libertarian tradition,” Dr. Jared Baeten, an epidemiologist and vice dean at the University of Washington School of Public Health, said. “But this is the consequence — we don’t succeed as well as a collective.” (quoted in Leonhardt article below)

2. In the federalist tradition, public health is the business of the states not the federal government. The “health, safety, and welfare” powers are precisely those left to the states in the federal compact. The federal government’s job was limited to the enumerated powers in Article 1, Section 8.

3. Several Asian cultures, notably Japan, have a long history of a culture of mask wearing. My understanding is that in the case of Japan this dates back to the influenza epidemic of 1919.

NOTE: Unfortunately, was not able to find cut-and-pastable graphics that fit directly with the points being made in each section. Rather than have no graphics at all I included perhaps the three most informative graphics I could find that were cut-and-pastable (from WIkipedia).

The Unique U.S. Failure to Control the Virus

COVID-19 Cases and Deaths, By the Numbers

COVID-19 pandemic in the United States

Coronavirus disease 2019


So what are your personal favorite magic numbers? What do they stand for? Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to math, statistics, or numbers in general. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in your life related to math.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. And to consolidate in your memory something you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.



Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.

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John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.