August 14, 2020

Nebraska Journal & Report

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Coronavirus mapping site's predictions 'have fallen short'

Coronavirus mapping site’s predictions ‘have fallen short’

A major source of information upon which government leaders have relied to urge or order the canceling of public events, shut down of businesses and sheltering in place has proved to be inaccurate.

The Federalist’s Madeline Osburn points out many members of the media and state officials are relying on an online mapping tool called COVID Act Now.

The site, with a map of catastrophic forecasts for each state, boasts of enabling “political leaders to quickly make decisions in their Coronavirus response informed by best available data and modeling.”

“But a closer look at how many of COVID Act Now’s predictions have already fallen short, and how they became a ubiquitous resource across the country overnight, suggests something more sinister,” Osburn wrote.

Osburn said the “bogus data sets … scare local and state officials into making rash, economy-killing mandates.”

The impact of the site cannot be ignored. The NBC affiliate in Dallas embedded the models in a story on a shelter-in-place order, and newspapers in Oregon published stories featuring the predictions about a “point of no return.”

It’s been used by Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Georgia CBS report and others

But its predictions already have proven “wildly wrong,” Osburn said.

“COVID Act Now predicted that by March 19 the state of Tennessee could expect 190 hospitalizations of patients with confirmed Wuhan virus. By March 19, they only had 15 patients hospitalized,” she pointed out.

“In New York, Covid Act Now claimed nearly 5,400 New Yorkers would’ve been hospitalized by March 19. The actual number of hospitalizations is around 750. The site also claimed nearly 13,000 New York hospitalizations by March 23. The actual number was around 2,500.”

There’s more. The report noted COVID Act Now predicted 688 hospitalizations in Georgia by March 23. There were 800 cases in the state and only 300 hospitalizations.

Numbers for other states were similar, the report said.

“Jordan Schachtel, a national security writer, said COVID Act Now’s modeling comes from one team based at Imperial College London that is not only highly scrutinized, but has a track record of bad predictions,” Osburn said.

Jessica Hamzelou at New Scientist explained how Chen Shen at the New England Complex Systems Institute, a research group in Cambridge, Massachusetts, found flaws and “incorrect assumptions” in the formulas.

Even COVID Act Now has started acknowledging “limitations,” including that “many” original numbers “are based on early estimates that are likely to be wrong” and “demographics, populations and hospital bed counts are outdated.”

It’s politics, though, that keeps the project in the headlines, the Federalist said.

“Founders of the site include Democratic Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins and three Silicon Valley tech workers and Democratic activists — Zachary Rosen, Max Henderson, and Igor Kofman — who are all also donors to various Democratic campaigns and political organizations since 2016. Henderson and Kofman donated to the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2016, while Rosen donated to the Democratic National Committee, recently resigned Democratic Rep. Katie Hill, and other Democratic candidates. Prior to building the COVID Act Now website, Kofman created an online game designed to raise $1 million for the eventual 2020 Democratic candidate and defeat President Trump. The game’s website is now defunct,” Osburn said.

Perhaps, the analysis explained, “the goal of COVID Act Now was never to provide accurate information, but to scare citizens and government officials into to implementing rash and draconian measures.”

“The creators even admit as much with the caveat that ‘this model is designed to drive fast action, not predict the future.'”


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Coronavirus mapping site’s predictions ‘have fallen short’