COLUMBUS (WCMH) — For doctors and scientists, dealing with COVID-19 is a process of trying to unveil the unknown.
For Dr. Douglas Frank and his students at Schilling Gifted School in Ohio, it’s a data project.
It’s all about the numbers, and Frank says according to the numbers, coronavirus has run its course in Ohio. Frank says it’s time to reopen the Buckeye State, but local leaders say not so fast.
“It’s already come through and the major fire is over and now there are a few breakouts and that’s what you always hear when there’s a fire. They will say it’s 90% contained or something and we have a few hotspots. It’s something like that,” says Frank.
But Franklin County Health Director Dr. Mysheika Roberts doesn’t agree.
“I would disagree that the forest fire has run through. I would say what we experienced in April is mild compared to what we’re experiencing now,” says Roberts.
Frank has a student with family near Wuhan, China, the source of the coronavirus outbreak. His math class decided back in December to study the spread.
Frank says the deaths are the most reliable way to study the numbers. The number of lives lost, like all of the daily numbers, lag.
For example, on Tuesday, Aug. 11, the number of deaths reported over the previous 24 hours was 35. In actuality, 35 is the number of death certificates that came in that day, and only later are the actual date of death assigned. By Wednesday, Aug. 12 only one person is officially listed as dying from COVID-19 the day before, and that number could change over the next two weeks as data catches up.
“One of the controls was, I’m not allowed to listen to any news, any media I’m only allowed to gather data that way I’m completely objective,” says Frank.
Dr. Frank now tracks the virus across the country, and around the world. He presents his daily finding on his analytics Facebook page. He’s convinced Ohio’s pop-up and free-for-all testing isn’t providing a clear picture.
“If you test 100 people every day and you get a certain percentage and were tracking that, that’s a nice consistent thing to do. But we’re not testing the same amount every day, and were not using a test that’s not designed to detect COVID patients. It’s designed to detect certain proteins and antibodies,” says Frank.
Dr. Roberts contends the quick antigen test, for which Gov. Mike DeWine tested positive, has drawbacks, but not the test being used for the public in Ohio.
“The PCR test is the gold standard and what’s been done through the majority of the state of Ohio and that is really a great test and really indicative of who has COVID-19,” says Roberts.
Still, Frank says the counting includes those without symptoms, those who may have had the virus, and are still carrying DNA that produces positives. Roberts acknowledges, by the numbers, Ohio is moving in a positive direction.
“I’m here today to tell you we’ve seen three consecutive weeks of a downward trend,” says Roberts.
That trend, Frank says, is tied directly to the amount of testing done over those three weeks. Four weeks ago, Ohio was testing 25,000 people per week. Due to supplies, that dropped to about 22,000 per week. A 12% decrease, which coincides exactly. But the fourth week didn’t produce the drop Dr. Roberts was hoping for.
She says she wants to continue seeing drops in numbers before she felt confident in opening schools completely.
“If epidemiologically, the numbers drop, then yes I would be confident in resuming face to face education,” says Roberts.
Frank says all schools in Ohio should be opened, but Roberts contends the data is changing. As they find, kids over 10 may asymptomatically spread it more, and in classrooms with kids and teachers, the virus can spread further if protocols aren’t followed.
“People are being exposed to each other and when people are exposed to each other, we’re going to share the virus. The virus is going to be with us for a while,” says Roberts.
Frank is a “number don’t lie” professor. The problem is the number don’t come immediately, so for those making decisions, definitive answers can’t be immediate.
“Next flu season I fully expect to have more COVID but like I gave the example of a forest fire, once you’ve burned everything up, it’s hard to start a fire there the next year,” Frank says.
But Roberts says we could have a while still to contend with the virus.
“The flu pandemic of 1918 lasted two years so keep that in mind. We’re only 5-6 months into this and it could be another 18 months before we’re really over the hill,” she says.
As far as a vaccine goes, Frank says having an effective one ready in months is unrealistic. Roberts says we have to adjust to the virus, because the virus isn’t going to adjust to us.