Home > Risk > Are we getting the COVID-19 information we need?

Are we getting the COVID-19 information we need?

Like most people (I assume) I am following my local (county), state, and national public health agencies’ web sites for information on the spread of the COVID-19 virus. I also watch the PBS NewsHour TV program and read the news from the BBC and major newspapers.

I am retired, so I don’t have to worry about any corporate effects; I only have to worry about what my wife and I need to do if we are to stay safe. While I also worry about the health and safety of my family in Nashville and London, as well as my friends around the world, there is nothing much I can do for them. (They reassure me they are practicing appropriate social distancing when we chat.)

My question today is whether my wife and I are getting the information we need. Are we able to make the informed and intelligent decisions necessary for our health and welfare?

Each of us may have different questions to answer and different decisions to make.  Today I am talking about my personal ones – and later will make a more generalized point.

What are the questions I have to answer? Here are the first that come to mind:

  1. Do I need to stay in my house?
  2. When, for what purpose, and how often should I leave it?
  3. Do I need to do something different to stay healthy, like take extra vitamins?
  4. Do I need to buy something so that if I am infected I will be more likely to survive?
  5. If I need groceries, should I go to the store or order for delivery?
  6. If I get groceries or other supplies, how do I stay safe?
  7. If I order food for delivery, how do I stay safe?
  8. How long will this last?
  9. How will I know when it’s easing off around me?
  10. Should I cancel my trips in April and June?

If I look at the information provided by the county, state, and federal agencies, I get some information:

  • The county tells me the total of confirmed cases; the number hospitalized; how many have died; how many are infected because of close contact with known cases; and the number infected due to presumed community transmission. There’s also a breakdown of the age of confirmed cases by decade. They tell me that schools will remain closed until May 1st and the shelter-in-place order is through April 7. There’s an additional Frequently Asked Questions section.
  • But the county does not tell me how many have been tested; how many are waiting to be tested; the wait time to be tested; or the trend – the shape of the curve that people keep talking about.
  • The county also doesn’t tell me how many people have called their doctor to report symptoms and stayed home without being tested. They recently announced that the federal government has asked them to gather and report those numbers.
  • The state tells me similar information: the number of positive cases and deaths; how many were community-acquired; the number of health care workers infected; the age breakdown, but only in 5 groups rather than by decade; and the gender of those tested positive.
  • One of the frustrating aspects of the situation is that some reports say the risk is greater for those over 70, some say (as does the state) over 65, while others say 60.
  • As with the county, the state provides general guidance on how to wash your hands and the symptoms of the disease.
  • But neither shares the information that would help me to see the trend, the shape of the curve. Nor do they tell me how to be safe when it comes to grocery-shopping or food deliveries, or how else to prepare.
  • The federal government has some high-level data to share: total cases; total deaths; the sources of exposure (97.5% are ‘under investigation’ so that data is useless); and the trends in total cases, although they indicate that recent data is incomplete. That data doesn’t make it clear whether the rate of increase is slackening or not. Nor do they break the data down by region or state.

Does this give me all the information I need to make informed and intelligent decisions?

Not really.

There are many sources of additional information in the media and on the web. The question is whether that information is (a) relevant to my decision, and (b) reliable. US government and state officials hold frequent press conferences, but not everybody believes what they have to say – especially when they contradict themselves and each other.

A number of health professionals have addressed some of my questions in the media and on YouTube. But I check their credentials before considering them credible. For example, one of my friends shared advice from an MD and when I checked into him I found that he was a specialist in treating allergies.

I will share this important video on safe shopping because it’s important and credible.

So, I don’t believe I am getting all the information I need. I have to make decisions based on what I do know and what seems prudent.

Now to the more general point.

What is happening is that these agencies are sharing what they want to tell me. In some cases, they are complying with federal or state requirements.

They are not thinking about what each of us needs to know so we can make our own informed and intelligent decisions.

I call this ‘push’ reporting. What we need is ‘pull’ reporting, where the individual who has the data understands what the consumer of the information needs to know. He or she understands the decisions that have to be made and the information necessary to enable them.

As practitioners, we need to do the same.

What do the decision-makers need from us?

What does the executive team need from us?

What does the board need from us?

Don’t follow standard practice and give them a report that doesn’t help them make their important decisions.

If you don’t know what they need, even if you believe they don’t know themselves, find out!

Then execute and tell them the shape of the curve, and so on.

I welcome your thoughts.

  1. Michael Corcoran
    March 26, 2020 at 3:15 PM

    Kroger opens at 7am for 60+ should you need paper goods stocked overnight.

    As a just in time global economy, very little federal, state and local governments control. But that balance will change very rapidly and we can no longer trust the Chinese Communist Party and their country anymore.

  2. March 26, 2020 at 3:57 PM

    Lucid and to the point as ever, this blog should be essential reading for every decision maker, and more than a few risk managers. In one short blog, you’ve set out the essence of Risk Management without reference to risk appetite, tolerance, capacity, criteria or a myriad of other Tower of Babel-esque devices.
    Thank you so much,

    • Norman Marks
      March 26, 2020 at 4:01 PM

      I wondered if anybody would notice that I didn’t use the ‘r’ curse word a single time! Thanks, Steve

      • Jim DeLoach
        March 26, 2020 at 6:58 PM

        Norman, thank you. All good points. Spot on. The public needs to be educated on all fronts and they haven’t. When I found out two+ weeks ago the life of the virus on plastics, cardboard and metal, it influenced my behavior in terms of bringing things into the house. I unpack ALL deliveries in the garage, dispose of the packing materials there and wipe the area down. I thought I had grocery shopping figured out but that video was highly educational and I appreciate you sharing it.

        We’ll get through through this. Stay safe and healthy.

  3. Grant Purdy
    March 26, 2020 at 9:56 PM

    Some of you will know that I’m critical of the monstrous belief system that risk management has become; with its own language, codes, symbols, rituals and high priests. Few would now dare to say they don’t believe in ‘risk management’ – even those most (if not all) don’t know what that phrase means. It’s certainty transmogrified (like Frankenstein’s monster) from a simple activity involved with the testing of assumptions as an input to decision making to the vast, self-serving edifices we see today.

    I’ve previously said that you won’t find many leaders in the world who are making difficult decisions during the current global crisis reaching for their risk registers or risk appetite statements. One thing we know about good leaders is that they are great at decision making: they are decisive and don’t procrastinate. They gather the views of others about context, look at a range of options and make sure they are clear on the assumptions and the level of certainty each option will lead to their desired outcomes. Then they decide and act swiftly.

    All this is true of great surgeons, corporate raiders and generals. They all act hard and act early. (And most would not know a risk register if they tripped over it!)

    An excellent analysis has been produced by the (Australian) ABC and shows clearly the difference in the rate of Coronavirus infections and the spread of the disease in countries whose leaders acted hard and early, and those that were or are still dithering. You can access it here https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-26/coronavirus-covid19-global-spread-data-explained/12089028

    I’ll let you form your own opinion of your country’s leaders and their decision-making based on this transparent analysis. One thing is clear though, if leaders’ procrastinate – because, variously it will damage their election chances, their population has a good diet, or their people don’t get sick – then it will cost many lives.

  4. March 27, 2020 at 1:57 AM

    Hi Norman interesting take and of course there has been so much information and opportunism. I believe the WHO call it infodemic. Here is a link to our national broadcaster which includes a very well produced short video about how the virus https://www.rte.ie/news/coronavirus/2020/0326/1126454-coronavirus-explained/
    keep well

  5. March 27, 2020 at 2:02 AM

    Would you be happy for professional bodies to reference this blog, duly acknowledged of course? I’m writing something for a safety group and want them to better understand how to embed risk thinking into decision making. This blog (and Grant’s comments) are perfect.
    Cheers, Steve

    • Norman Marks
      March 27, 2020 at 6:10 AM


  6. March 27, 2020 at 3:00 AM

    Good blog as usual Norman. I’m 72 with a 93 year old mother-in-law, so the questions you are asking are also very relevant to me. I had to look at the problem of information requirements many years ago when having to consider reports required from an accounting system. This led me to some general principles which I set down in a website https://www.managing-information.org.uk/ . Information has to be relevant, complete, simple accurate and timely. It also has to be used. How much information was available about a possible pandemic that was never acted upon? I think there was much relevant information, including several near-misses such as SARS but it’s now obvious that governments failed to heed the warnings and build stocks of masks, ventilators etc.
    I’m now sticking to the simple rule of avoiding as much contact as possible. As a result our garden has never looked better! Hope all goes well with you and your family.

  7. Gary Lim
    March 27, 2020 at 7:11 AM

    Norman, an interesting topic in your blog.
    The social media which consists of audio, video and messages flood our daily life. If one is truly a Risk Manager, selecting a reputable source AND checking the points and not be so gullible to believe them easily, otherwise the person is not worthy as a Risk Manager. The ability to read and understand the messages (in any form) and make full use of it makes one a leader.

  8. March 29, 2020 at 9:45 AM
    • Norman Marks
      March 29, 2020 at 9:52 AM

      Thank you for sharing. I doubt even those who did assess pandemic risk (so-called) considered ALL the effects, including the economic and the loss of life from other causes when hospitals are overrun, and so on.

  1. March 31, 2020 at 5:13 AM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: