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- The calculation behind West’s “recovery rate” is not accurate. He looked at people who did not die after contracting COVID-19 and compared that figure to the entire population, not just those individuals who have been infected.
- Experts said his definition of the recovery rate is also misleading, as it counts any person who did not die as having recovered. In reality, studies have shown lasting health impacts on those who contracted the virus but are no longer infectious.
Texas Republicans selected a new party leader at last month’s virtual state convention, overwhelmingly supporting retired Army Lt. Col. Allen West, a former one-term U.S. House member from Florida as chairman over incumbent James Dickey.
West described some state-level actions aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus in the state as tyrannical during his address to delegates during the convention — a criticism that he has carried over to media appearances following his election.
During an appearance on a North Texas radio program on July 27, West talked about the state’s coronavirus response and the recovery rate for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
"When I look at a state like Texas, which has 29 million in population, we’re getting close to I guess about 300,000 or so COVID-19 positive cases — there’s some questions about what a positive case really means — and sadly we’ve lost about 3,900 Texans," West said. "That’s only .01% of our population. If you just want to look at the facts, and I know everyone is concerned about this resurgence of COVID-19, but again we see more testing, more positive cases but yet the death rate is continuing to drop. I don’t want to see us get to the point where we’re imposing draconian measures, measures that go against our fundamental liberties and freedoms and rights over something that has a 99.9% recovery rate."
West described the same recovery rate during an interview with a television station in Dallas on Sunday, stating: "99.9% of Texans are able to recover from COVID-19."
Is that accurate? West’s numbers for positive cases and deaths are outdated and his figure for the recovery rate is wrong.
"The statement that COVID-19 "has a 99.9% recovery rate" is something I would characterize as false," said Cory Zigler, an associate professor of statistics and data sciences and of women’s health at the University of Texas.
Coronavirus figures in Texas
At the time of West’s statement on July 27, Texas was reporting 385,923 positive COVID-19 test results from molecular tests and 5,713 fatalities connected to the coronavirus. The state has since corrected the number of fatalities for July 27 as 5,489.
West said the numbers he used in his calculation were from mid-July. When asked about the formula he used to calculate his recovery rate — recoveries versus the state’s population — he said it was meant to show the impact of the virus in the state.
"I chose that comparative means because we would use the same methodology to assess any illness affects against the greater population," he said in a statement (which was later posted to the Texas Republican Party’s Facebook page).
But that’s not true.
Zigler said calculating the recovery rate would involve a count of the people who have been infected with COVID-19 and the count of those who recover — which in West’s definition is all those who did not die. The latest numbers would put that rate closer to 98.7%
Comparing recoveries to the population at-large does not produce a recovery rate.
"You don’t recover from something you’ve never had," Zigler said.
Diana Cervantes, director of the Master of Public Health Epidemiology Program at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, agreed and said the calculation West used is "poor math."
"How can you say someone is recovered if they have never been infected?" she said.
Plus, Cervantes said West’s assertion that this methodology would be used to assess the impact of any illness is a stretch.
"The reason you collect data on diseases is because you have certain goals, including to understand the burden of the disease and whether control measures are effective," she said. "One of those goals is usually not — because of limited resources — to say ‘what is the recovery rate’ and ‘how many people return to their normal state of health’."
"That kind of question is usually beyond the scope of the resources of health departments and even academic institutions to answer that question," she said.
Examining what recovery means
Another component of West’s claim that needs a closer look is how he characterizes recoveries: all those who tested positive and did not die.
Zigler and Cervantes said this is one way of describing recoveries, but another definition may be more common.
"One could imagine a different definition of ‘recovery’ to mean ‘did not die and no longer remains sick’ which would decrease the ‘recovery rate’ since there is evidence that many people have lasting problems after infection," Zigler said in an email.
While research is ongoing, doctors and researchers have raised concerns about the lasting impact of COVID-19. Studies have found that "recovered" patients continued to have impaired organ function and blood test results did not return to normal after the individual was no longer infectious.
The recovery rate has been a point of friction for some public officials, as different states use distinct formulas to calculate the rate. In Texas, the state produces an estimate based on hospitalizations and average stays.
"It is misleading and could be a little dangerous," Cervantes said, adding that people may be less cautious in their efforts to stop the spread of the virus if they think their chances of returning to their usual state of health after becoming infected are as high as 99.9%.
"It will give people a false impression that most people who get infected, we know that they are now back to their previous state of health and really, there is no way to know that," she said. "We don’t know that unless we survey people and do a more in depth look into this thing, and we’re barely keeping up with contract tracing as it is."
West gave outdated numbers for the numbers of infections and deaths in Texas. He also said the recovery rate for COVID-19 is 99.9%, based on the number of people in Texas who did not die after testing positive for COVID-19 divided by the entire population of Texas.
Experts said West’s calculation here is wrong. Even if you defined all people who were infected with the virus and didn’t die as having recovered, that rate would be 98.7%. But that way of considering recovery would be misleading since studies have shown many people suffer long-term health effects from the virus.
We rate this claim False.
Mark Davis Show, July 27, 2020 8am Hour
Email interview with Luke Twombly, spokesman for West, July 30, 2020
Austin American-Statesman, Allen West ousts James Dickey as Texas GOP chair, July 20, 2020
NBC DFW, Lone Star Politics, July 26, 2020
Facebook Post, Republican Party of Texas, July 30, 2020
Austin American-Statesman, Texas coronavirus death toll higher than previously thought, July 27, 2020
Email interview with Cory Zigler, an associate professor of statistics and data sciences and of women’s health at the University of Texas at Austin, July 30, 2020
Phone interview with Diana Cervantes, director of the Master of Public Health Epidemiology Program at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, July 31, 2020
Email interview with Cervantes, July 31, 2020
Fort Worth Star Telegram, Are COVID-19 case numbers true? Recoveries called a wild guess, ‘bizarre, ‘a stretch’, July 31, 2020
Twitter, Texas Department of State Health services, July 30, 2020
Los Angeles Times, Coronavirus infection may cause lasting damage throughout the body, doctors fear, April 10, 2020
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