Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

The News Editorial: COVID math is hard

We like to have fun in our newsroom and last Tuesday as we were beginning to digest election results and add up numbers from various precincts one of our reporters asked jokingly, “Are we using COVID math or regular math?”

I emphatically said no, there would be no COVID math involved in election vote tallies.

The reason? No one understands COVID math because COVID math is hard and confusing.

Why you ask? The biggest reason is that every county, every state and every country seems to count differently.

First there are the deaths. I don’t believe Wyoming is adding COVID to death certificates when people die of other things, as you hear reported in other states. As stated previously in this space though that is happening in other places. White House Task Force member Dr. Deborah Birx said during the April 7 briefing, “So, I think, in this country, we’ve taken a very liberal approach to mortality …There are other countries that if you had a pre-existing condition and let’s say the virus caused you to go to the ICU and then have a heart or kidney problem — some countries are recording that as a heart issue or a kidney issue and not a COVID-19 death.

“Right now … if someone dies with COVID-19, we are counting that as a COVID-19 death.”

Dr. Ed Zimmerman, Washakie County Health Officer said in his briefing on Facebook on April 11, “There has been a lot of discussion about whether or not the COVID-19 death rates are accurate. Many point out that people die of heart disease, or Emphysema and these are counted as COVID-19. This is actually true. If someone dies with COVID-19 infection present but it’s a heart attack or respiratory failure that caused that death … it’s still a COVID-19 cause of death.”

So there in lies the first COVID math problem. Are all of the deaths in the U.S. actually from COVID-19, from an underlying factor or from some other factor completely.

COVID math is hard.

Trying to figure out why some deaths are attributed to Wyoming months later, or in the case of a few of the recent deaths when the residents have been at long-term care facilities in other states, why are they counted in Wyoming?

Why? Because COVID math is hard.

Another issue is the probable cases. You will see in our weekly update numbers for Washakie County that we do not list the probable cases. We will report them in our daily updates at but when we speak about active cases or actual cases those are lab-confirmed not probable cases. Not everyone does that. When the Casper Star-Tribune reports statewide numbers they include probable cases.

Probable cases are close contacts of lab-confirmed cases with symptoms consistent with COVID-19. What exactly does that mean? What symptoms? How serious are the symptoms? Are they related to allergies, smoke from western fires? Or are they related to COVID-19? Because of these questions we tend to leave the probable cases unreported for the most part.

Why? Because COVID math is hard.

Sometimes cases – lab-confirmed and/or probable cases — just simply disappear.

As we follow the daily numbers we will see one county with a certain number of cases one day and then have one or two fewer cases the next day. We have been able to track when that has happened to Washakie County, usually it means a case was moved to another county or state.

Again, COVID math is hard.

COVID math is just one of the challenges in covering the pandemic. Due to federal patient privacy acts it is hard to obtain information about specific individuals. We have become privy to a few names of COVID-19 patients but for the most part we do not know the names of all 100 cases.

We are unable to obtain information about where they may have contacted it, except in the case of the outbreak at the Worland Healthcare and Rehab Center.

We appreciate the county dashboard information on the WDH website that provides testing data and age range data because that is information that is information in Washakie County that has been hard to come by. However, even on the dashboard there are 11 of the county’s 100 cases that are “blank” in the age range category.

Why? Because COVID math is hard.

And speaking of testing data. The WDH reports “resulted COVID-19 tests” with Washakie County currently having 1,651. Resulted tests means some cases may have “multiple positive results, so testing numbers will not match case counts. Also commercial labs are required to report positive tests results to the WDH but not required to report negative results. Thus we never truly know exactly how many people have been tested.

Why? Because COVID math is hard.

We are trying our best to provide accurate and relevant COVID data and as long as we are living under pandemic protocols we will continue to do so.

So no matter what the numbers may say, stay safe and healthy.