There’s no denying 723 is a shocking number. It’s the biggest single number we have seen in this pandemic from a single Australian jurisdiction — in fact, we haven’t seen a single day in the pandemic with this many cases, even if you were to add up all the states in Australia.
But it’s too early to freak out. You’re right to be concerned, but we can’t draw too many conclusions from just one or two data points.
Instead, we need to look at averages over multiple days.
Carefully watch and wait
I’d be looking at five-day rolling averages because we know that is the median incubation time for this coronavirus. We should start to see impacts from the most recent round of interventions within five days.
It’s too early to call for much tougher restrictions based on Thursday’s bad number alone. It’s good the Victorian government is now making it mandatory for people anywhere in the state to wear a mask or face-covering when outside the home, and we need to wait and see what the impacts of those measures might be.
And from midnight tonight, people in the local government areas of Greater Geelong, Surf Coast, Moorabool, Golden Plains, Colac-Otway, and Queenscliffe will not be able to host visitors at home.
We need to keep some powder dry and allow time for measures to work before enforcing much stricter measures across the state or worrying further.
Stay home if you’re sick or awaiting test results
The government’s messaging recently has been much more strongly focused on not going to work while sick or waiting at home for test results, which is important given the role workplaces and social gatherings play in spreading COVID-19.
People need to have it sink into their consciousness that they must not work and mix while sick or awaiting a test result. As Andrews said on Thursday:
There were also a number of other people who, when there was a discussion, the person that the ADF and the Health Department, as a joint team, were looking for, the person who has a confirmed diagnosis having coronavirus, they’ve got a positive test, they weren’t home. But a family member was, and the family member helpfully pointed out that that person, a positive coronavirus case, was in fact at work.
Beyond that, there were some instances where people were not perhaps clear on what they needed to do. The important thing is that they got that information because they were door-knocked.
Andrews reiterated on Thursday there is a A$300 payment for people who can’t work while awaiting test results (you can apply here), or a $1,500 payment for people who test positive (eligible applicants will be contacted by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services).
There’s a lot we don’t know
When asked about the 723 cases, Andrews said:
There are a number of positive cases in aged care, and therefore they are being reflected in these numbers. That’s one point […] The other issue around targeted testing, where there’s been significant outbreaks, the more outbreaks you have, the more testing you do, and you will find cases.
The fact is there’s a lot we don’t know about Thursday’s number. There could be delays in testing, we don’t know if that figure includes a bunch of backdated results or some other element driving it. We know cases reported today were infected up to two weeks ago but we can’t see illness onset dates among these numbers. We may see a different curve emerge in coming days and weeks — better or worse. We just don’t know.
We shouldn’t get too carried away without more of the context — but that said, I do understand why people see a bad number and think, “Oh my god.” I have done that myself sometimes.
We all feel pain for Victoria and we know restriction fatigue is real. Victoria isn’t an isolated place and it’s clear borders can leak. Any cases anywhere in the country represent a risk to all of us in Australia.
The real trend behind today’s numbers will emerge in coming days and weeks.
Authors: Ian M. Mackay, Adjunct Associate Professor, Faculty of Medicine, The University of Queensland