What Coronavirus Numbers Can And Can’t Tell Us About The Spread Of The Disease

There’s a lag in time between when people take action to slow the spread of the virus and when the effectiveness of that action is reflected in the data.

The streets are empty in downtown Austin last week.

Every day, we hear updated COVID-19 numbers: The number of confirmed cases. The number of people hospitalized. The number of people who have died. We know the numbers are going up, and we expect them to continue to rise. But beyond that, it can be difficult to understand what they teach us about the spread of the disease and whether we're making progress against it.

To make sense of these daily updates, Claus Wilke says, it helps to think of the pandemic as any other natural disaster, like a hurricane or an earthquake. There is one key difference, though: If everyone stays home, the disaster doesn't happen.

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