One thing the state has been doing mostly well throughout this coronavirus crisis has been to report promptly Hawaii’s COVID-19 daily cases.
Most people probably learn about those numbers through the news headlines or their social media feeds. They are valuable to know.
But what if those are the only numbers that people see? Could that lead to policy responses that are unnecessary at best or completely devastating to our livelihoods and social bonds at worst?
Absolutely. In fact, that seems to be exactly what happened in August after the state and media widely trumpeted the “surge” in COVID cases. Daily headlines were used to justify delaying the reopening of tourism and reinstituting severe restrictions on businesses and the general public, even though the number of actual deaths in Hawaii from the coronavirus has remained relatively low.
Would Hawaii residents be as supportive of the coronavirus lockdown measures if they were updated every day about the broader adverse economic and social effects of the COVID lockdowns? That would seem to be equally valuable for the public to know.
For example, we rarely are told how many small businesses have had to permanently close. Weekly unemployment claim numbers are hardly publicized, despite remaining alarmingly high. And the number of calls to our suicide or domestic-violence hotlines are generally not publicized.
A recent poll found that many Americans believe that 20% of our country has tested positive and 9% have died. Those numbers are far from reality. But surely those who think those numbers are true are more willing to accept strict shutdown measures than those with a more nuanced and holistic understanding of the coronavirus crisis.
They say you can’t manage what you don’t measure. But what the state and our media choose not to measure or publicize is perhaps what needs the most attention.