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By Tim Hunt

Be aware of hyperbole in numbers and media hype

Uploaded: Mar 31, 2020

Today we will get the formal order from Bay Area health departments that the shelter-in-place order will be extended through April—San Francisco officials already announced it Monday.

This move was foreshadowed last week when county education departments ordered schools to remain shut with students being taught online through April.

The order provides a degree of certainty for everyone, but is devastating for restaurants, hotels and other hospitality businesses to say nothing of personal service providers such as barbers, hairstylists and others in that arena. Just how they will pay their bills in April and May without income for seven weeks will send some to Amazon and similar companies that are hiring as many people as they can. Just how the hugely expensive federal bailout will play for them remains to be seen.

In the meantime, here’s hoping that officials use more realistic numbers.

For instance, you’ve got to wonder who was advising Gov. Gavin Newsom when he issued the stunning prediction that 25.5 million Californians could be infected with the coronavirus in eight weeks. What’s more amazing is where the journalists were who should have been challenging that number.

As I write this mid-day March 25, the number of worldwide cases is 454,400 while the cases in the United States are 61,167. The governor’s number was so extreme that it should have prompted immediate questions. When the Ohio medical officer said there were 100,000 positive cases in the state, people pushed back and she admitted it was a “guestimate.”

The governor’s hyperbole went way beyond a simple guess—it made no sense when examined against the situation Italy where the coronavirus was running rampant. In a country of 60 million, 50 percent more than California at 40 million, Wednesday’s total was 74,000.

In the March 25 press briefing, Dr. Elizabeth Birx took on the issue and explained that stories showing half of the countries of Italy or Germany infected were scaring people without facts. She pointed out that there were 80,000 cases in Wuhan and—wildly extrapolating to undiagnosed people with no symptoms to reach 600,000 people. That’s in a population of 80 million. So, apply common sense when reading these absurd numbers.

Random notes on the impact of the coronavirus:

• One friend works 12-hour shifts as nurse at an East Bay hospital. She’s limited to two facemasks per shift to ration supplies.
• Hope Hospice, based in Dublin, issued a request for donations of masks and other personal protective gear for their nurses who visit patients in their homes weekly. The non-profit also announced that it has cancelled its popular Hike for Hope that had been scheduled for May 2.
• The “be serious” note of the week. The landlord/property manager at 2340 Santa Rita Road sent rent increase notes mid-month to tenants. Really. By contrast, the landlord at Shepherd’s Gate’s New Life Store (closed for the virus) at 4014 East Avenue in Livermore notified the non-profit of a 50 percent rent reduction for three months. Hurray for the good guys.
• My friends at Big O Tire in Pleasanton are continuing to operate, but have seen a 50 percent drop in business. They are taking precautions (cleaning keys, key pads and stylus between customers). As I’ve chatted with a few others, that’s not unusual for businesses that are operating with the exception of the grocery stores that have been buried by panic buying.
• With local business pretty much shuttered, local media companies such as the Pleasanton Weekly and the Livermore Independent are suffering without their normal advertising base. Digital readership has soared, but that doesn’t dent the costs of printing and distributing a weekly paper so publication has been suspended. The Independent scrapped its art section for the time being, while I picked up a copy of the Tuesday East Bay Times that was nearly devoid of advertising (Traditionally Tuesday is a slow advertising day, but the pages were virtually ad free). Print revenues have dropped consistently from the Great Recession to date, here’s hoping the management can find a way to weather this crisis. Remember, there was a time when the Weekly was routinely two sections with ample advertising.