I have started a new habit. Once a day Dr. Tony Holohan somberly reveals the daily Irish coronavirus statistics and unless your living on Mars you know today (Mar 20th) brought 126 new cases. Then I wait for an hour to see how the 4 main news sources in the country headline the news.
The four that I follow are The Irish Times, Irish Examiner, Irish Independent and the Journal.ie. The Journal normally have 4-6 coronavirus related articles within 90 minutes or so.
There are frequent calls from the government and media to only source your information from reputable sources (i.e.them). You may have clicked into this article and wonder am I one. It is a valid question. I am not a news organisation. For Irish articles, I generally source data material from Irish Government websites like GOV.IE , that publishes the statistics that Dr. Holohan talks about on the news every evening.
Other than that I use the Department of Health website, WHO or the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control. I normally link to the data I use and encourage people to go take a look for themselves.
And finally I offer an opinion. Do with it what you may.
The idea is not to convince you of my opinion necessarily, rather to encourage you to think about it. And hopefully ask a few questions of your own. To that end let’s get back to today’s statistics.
126 cases is a reduction from yesterday’s 171. Quite rightly, Dr. Holohan reminded us not to read into the reduction. Most of the 4 News organisations led their headlines with the bare statistics. 126 new cases. Some lightly mentioned some of the statistics in the breakdown.
Today, what I want you to do is have a look at the below breakdown from http://www.gov.ie that breaks down Ireland’s COVID-19 stats. The breakdown considers all cases in Ireland up to and including March 18th. Now remember, things have moved in a rather more bleak direction since March 18th and cases from the last two days are not included.
The full statistic set can be found here
There are three key statistics that are going in a very worrying direction and no-one seems to be critically examining them.
The first statistic is the number of patients requiring ICU bed care was or is 12. I have reported before that the nation has less than 300 ICU beds in the entire country. Now let me add a proviso – I do not know if this number has increased since the outbreak – mainly because no journalists seem to be pushing for answers on this question. It may be, that the HSE have managed to source more ICU beds or have converted high dependency units into emergency ICU facilities in recent days. if they have I haven’t seen it reported anywhere.
The second statistic that jumps out is that over one quarter of people infected with COVID-19 are health professionals. Early indicators are that we are not learning and adapting to the errors of other countries in the area. I am going to now quote a figure that Leo Varadkar was throwing out to the general public earlier in the week – that we may have 15,000 cases of this disease in the not too distant future. Based on current rates of transmission this means 4,000 of them will be health workers. I will leave it to your own imagination what this would mean for our Health service if that were to happen. Again I question why journalists are not pushing Politicians and Health Leadership on what measures they are implementing to protect front-line staff. Specifics not happy talk.
The final statistic that jumps out at me is that one third of all people to date required hospitalization in some form or another. Now I am going to quote directly from the HSE website on how many hospital beds we have in this country.
” According to the Review, in addition to delivering better service, better outcomes and better value, the development of a fully Integrated Health System would impact on the demand for public patient beds by 2020. There are currently 11,660 public beds in public hospitals. In addition there are nearly 4,400 private beds (2,461 in public hospitals and 1,926 in private hospitals) “
For a link to the full HSE publication click the link below. Based on the current rate of hospitalization every public hospital bed in the country will be full when we get to 34,000 cases of COVID-19. Now I don’t for a minute believe the government plans to entertain hospitalizing people at a rate of nearly 33% for much longer but again I would ask why aren’t the media pushing them on WHAT EXACTLY they do plan to do to keep infected people out of the hospital system. Does hospitalized mean beds? – If it doesn’t what percentage need a hospital bed?
I was glad that the Taoiseach addressed the seriousness of the coming months on national television on St. Patrick’s day. I agree we are all in this together. I noted he thanked mainstream media journalists for their assistance in getting the message out. I noted also that the following day the press announced the hiring of a new, lead communications person. No doubt to help the government to simplify the messaging and keep the public informed but upbeat. I don’t in theory have a problem with that as long as the mainstream media examine every message for authenticity and ask questions.
On all the above questions I believe there are answers and in some instances very positive answers. For example, I understand that works are on going to convert buildings into temporary overflow facilities in almost every county. Update the public on these positives with details in the daily briefings.
A journalists job, if it is anything, is to ask questions. Not to act as the press office for government departments and officials. You can release important government statistics and still ask hard questions. Then, explore the avenues that these questions direct you in. The profession of journalism is highly important in this regard, most especially in the current climate.
Simply put, asking the difficult questions ensures the politicians and government officials do their jobs better. At the moment, the eyes of the world are upon them. The Irish press have a perfect storm when you think about it. A wide variety of them have daily access to government and high level officials providing daily information updates. Allied to that they also have a highly engaged and engrossed audience eager for endless amounts of information. And finally they have upwards of half the country confined to their homes, computer screens and phones for long periods.
I’ve highlighted 3 juicy questions above based on the latest release of granular data from the HSE. Maybe there are very specific answers to these questions and the government are ready to answer them. I have no idea because no-one is playing hardball in the media. Instead of writing click-bait articles chastising the public for sharing the latest gossip on Whats-app maybe, just maybe journalists could ask a few tough questions and give them a reason to ignore Whats-app.
Meanwhile in the wider world, a place close to Irish hearts, New York City and State are rapidly become the Northern Italy of the United States. The City and State have a little shy of 50% of the cases in the United States. The current numbers are over 7,000 infections.
Governor Cuomo has put the entire state on PAUSE. All non essential workers are directed to work from home. Only essential businesses can have workers commuting to their jobs and on the job. Everyone is required to maintain a 6ft distance from each other in public.
In total New York have carried out over 32,000 tests and on March 19th completed 10,000 in one day. Governor Cuomo in yesterday’s press conference revealed that New York is testing as of today, per capita, more people than both China and South Korea. However Cuomo estimates that New York, a state that has over 50,000 hospital beds only have 50% of the hospital beds that it will require in the next few weeks. He further revealed today that New York only has 33% of the ICU beds that it needs to meet the coronavirus head on.
|New York City||4,408|
|Total Number of Positive Cases||7,102|