The Data Visualizations Behind COVID-19 Skepticism

Research By Crystal Lee, Tanya Yang, Gabrielle Inchoco, Graham M. Jones, and Arvind Satyanarayan
Interactive Article By Crystal Lee, Jonathan Zong, Anna Arpaci-Dusseau, Katherine Huang, Mateo Monterde, Ethan Nevidomsky, Tanya Yang, Anna Meurer, Soomin Chun, and Arvind Satyanarayan
March 1, 2021

How do COVID-19 skeptics use public health data and social media to advocate for reopening the economy and against mask mandates?

We studied half a million tweets, over 41,000 visualizations, and spent six months lurking in anti-mask Facebook groups.

Here’s what we found.

So what do anti-mask users actually say about the data? To answer this question, we spent 6 months “deep lurking” on anti-mask Facebook groups. From March to September 2020, we followed comment threads, archived images that were shared, and watched Facebook Live streams where members led tutorials on accessing and analyzing public health data.

Anti-maskers are acutely aware that mainstream political and news organizations use data to underscore the pandemic’s urgency; they believe that these data sources and visualizations are fundamentally flawed and seek to counteract these biases. Their discussions reflect a fundamental distrust in public institutions: anti-maskers believe that the inconsistency in the way that data is collected and the incessant fear mongering make it difficult to make rational, scientific decisions.

AA: [Redacted] county resident here- I donʼt get what youʼre saying in the post- closing schools does not equal reducing deaths?

BB: I've not seen any evidence that closing schools helps. The European contact tracing studies showed that transmission was from parent to child...

CC: Oh my goodness! donʼt say that too loud or theyʼll be taking our kids out of the home to some “covid camp”.

AA: Got it! thanks for the clarification!

DD: I am really, really struggling with the lack of 5-day/week school and extracurricular activities. These kidsʼ mental health is suffering and we will see those negative results LONG after any minimal complications from COVID.

EE: Latest studies show kids under 5 have higher concentrations of viral particles in throat to spread out and kids 5-18 have same amount of virus as adults in their throats. They obviously donʼt have as bad of outcomes but do have as much or more viral particles leaving their body than adults. [embeds YouTube video]

FF: That statement goes against everything I've read to date about children having low viral load. Shedding is not the same thing as infectiousness. There are hundreds of thousands of data points (children) that make it clear that they are poor spreaders, and it's only rational to conclude that this is due to low viral load.

EE: “Our analyses suggest children younger than 5 years with mild to moderate COVID-19 have high amounts of SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA in their nasopharynx compared with older children and adults. Our study is limited to detection of viral nucleic acid, rather than infectious virus, although SARS-CoV-2 pediatric studies reported a correlation between higher nucleic acid levels and the ability to culture infectious virus.” [link to JAMA article]

GG: I mean for God sakes does it really matter? The bottom line is THE NUMBERS DO NOT JUSTIFY THE SHUT DOWN. Period! We cannot hide in our homes and keep schools closed until this thing disappears the day after election day! My God you would think there are bodies in the streets.

FF: JAMA performed lab tests from symptomatic children, which are extremely rare to begin with. They didn't even study transmission, and then resorted to a theoretical model. Why does a single theoretical study outweigh 20 others and mountains of empirical evidence?

BB: As a scientist, I put little stock in such studies.

FF: Agreed, but I wanted to address his point, since it's largely based on a tiny bit of flimsy evidence.

EE: of course it doesnʼt necessarily outweigh anything. Our understanding of the virus keeps changing so as new studies emerge they deserve to be engaged with. Iʼm also more interested personally with studies in the last month as opposed to studies from the beginning. They have to be read together I think.

HH: RNA molecules being shed does not mean youʼre contagious. The viral RNA is part of the virus, not whole, infectious virus.

EE: Yeah the study points that out.

HH: I heard todayʼs Ohio press conference was especially bad with bringing childrenʼs hospital doctors on to continue to scare parents to death to send there kids to school. I canʼt watch anymore myself

II: It didnʼt even offer any legitimacy. Maybe to those who are already scared? Kids have been working and playing in sports all summer with no cases rising. The doctor said “mobile teens” are the concern. I asked each hospital to provide links to peer researched med journals about the safety and long term effects of masking all day for children of all ages. Those hospitals donʼt have any resources for parents on their covid resource pages. Sure wouldnʼt hurt.

JJ: it was absolutely ridiculous.

KK: Sure was, the one doctor they had on said 10% of kids with the virus get hospitalized. Looking at the raw data directly from the Ohio Covid site, 2.4% of those cases ages 0-19 have been hospitalized thus far. Only a 4x exaggeration, no big deal.

HH: And even that % is questionable. As soon as they shut off the hospital revenue stream and added bonus revenue for Covid, I knew that number could no longer be trusted, especially for a possible “novel” virus that we didnʼt know a lot about early on.

KK: You betcha. In actuality it's probably more like 1%, just spitballing with no evidence to back that up though.

LL: It was awful today. To use my polite language, those doctors were useless, brainless morons.

MM: I had to stop watching. I just canʼt with him butchering medical info and the “experts” he puts on there can just go on a list of medical folks I never want caring for me or my children.

NN: The two male doctors were pediatric gastroenterologists - totally who I want telling me about a respiratory illness!

MM: [eyerolling emoji] exactly. Infectious disease would make the most sense but again, no sense going on.

NN: there aren't any.

OO: Wish these graphs zoomed in a little more. Oldman eyes makes them hard to read. LOL [laugh crying emoji]

PP: tap the pic on your phone and scroll larger with your fingers. Works for me!

OO: thank you. I tried that. It makes it larger but I have to get the 'ol magnifying glass. Oldman eyes. LOL

QQ: I have that problem too!

RR: Maybe youʼre saying the deaths were so low they didnʼt need to close the schools to begin with? Then youʼd have to have data showing the deaths stayed low with the schools open....guess this fall gives you the chance for that study.

SS: are you new here? Have you read up on his models etc and how he calculates things? If you have I think this is right in line with his position from the beginning.

RR: The data shared earlier indicates Ohio has done well (lots of counties with large populations and smaller death rates), in which case how could he say shutting things down didnʼt help?

TT: I get confused also @RR. So you arenʼt alone.

UU: @RR, maybe it has nothing to do with how Ohio reacted, rather how the virus acted in Ohio. Gotta remember two US states account for the majority of covid deaths, everywhere else hasnʼt seen anything close to what it was made out to be

RR: maybe, but thereʼs no control to compare to, so drawing conclusions that the shut down didnʼt work canʼt really be supported by the data. Also hard to say that it DID work of course. Where there are many deaths, there might have been more, where there are few, maybe there would have been few anyways. And then thereʼs still the fact that I really just donʼt understand the point @BB is trying to make here. Maybe he can clarify and I might even agree

VV: With no control to compare, its irresponsible to present opinion as data- supported fact. Nothing in this chart proves/disproves efficacy of school closures.

WW: I like how you tried to stay impartial at first; now youʼre calling out these policies for what they are - 3 stooges bumping around in the dark, guessing, swatting at the microbes like gnats. Still, there is a 100% chance that the politicians high on emergency powers will give themselves credit for flattening curves, and the unmasked will be blamed for any hotspots.

BB: Something is up with their data, because every country is behaving like this. So my early assumptions and modeling were based upon the DATA I had from China, and I always follow the data. Note, how when the data began to diverge from my models, I made hypotheses to keep the model alive, but those hypothese soon failed as well. So I had to abandon the original model. That is the scientific method. (Actually, I didn't completely abandon it. It did a fabulous job tracking the first wave of the epidemic, and exposed what was going on in the US.)

XX: So this would support the theory that China is not being honest with their data?

BB: Yes. Doesn't prove it. Just evidence.

YY: @XX, and water contains hydrogen. They're lying through their teeth. The entire world is now seeing it.

ZZ: China can never be trusted with anything. I think most of us know that.

AB: I wouldn't believe the CHinese government if they swore they were lying. Another point on spreads literally EVERYWHERE in the world but not to other parts of China, their REPORTED deaths are almost all localized to Hubei Province from what I hear? They need to pay a hefty price for this when we get back to "normal" because there is no possible way they have been straight with the world.

BC: That's not true. Every province or region in China has had documented cases

AB: @BC, technically true but almost impossible to believe that Hubei Province has 97% of the deaths and it is a landlocked province almost smack dab in the middle of the most densely populated portion of their country.

BC: ah, I get what you mean now.

CD: not the spread you'd expect compared to what's seen around the world.

DE: Other Asian nations have had similar success like China. It's their ability to obey commands. It's so foreign to western and especially Christian culture. Abraham, Moses, many other heroes failed to obey at times. Idk. Maybe we are all the same. Maybe they do wear masks though

EF: Do the dips correspond to weekends? In other words, is it a reporting anomaly more than a reality?

BB: Dips are about five days apart. Good thought experiment! Think of it like the falling burning trees in the forest... they fall over and start new flame ups at a certain rate.

FG: If this is cases, it's likely not even a testing anomaly, but a lab anomaly. The lab staff is off on Sundays, despite testing going on

GH: The lowest point in the first dip (March 22) corresponds to a Sunday,while the lowest point second dip (March 30) is a Monday and the numbers from today also a Monday at 2330 cases will correspond to either another (lower) dip or (hopefully) a continuation of an overall downward trend. So maybe the weekend labs are delayed a day or two - over the peak is over (fingers crossed).

BB: [graph of cases in Mexico per day] Mexico has still not peaked. [sad emoji]

HI: headed to Cabo in a month.. hopefully things continue to be benign there as reports are saying for that area

WW: Any report of Mexico's deaths? That's more of a driver than cases.

IJ: see the daily cases in the first graph, daily deaths in the second.

JK: Would love to see a state-by-state breakdown. Hard to see what's going on at such a macro level.

KL: Here's a dotgram for Oklahoma.

LM: Wow awesome thank you!!!!!


NO: do you know why these help? Perspective!

OP: The fear mongering right now is unbelievable here...cracking down with mask mandates and focusing on just case numbers.

PQ: Since Kentucky seems to be such a total booger these days, can you show this for us? We are seriously concerned about another lock down come September. I know of one person who tested positive, but is not sick. The family is under quarantine at home. Second test was still positive, so they are still at home. Sheʼs a nurse.

QR: @PQ, tests that really worked would help!!

PQ: I agree. My husband had to go inpatient for an oxygen sleep study a couple of weeks ago. He had to go be tested 3 days before and was asked to quarantine after the test until the procedure was completed. he was a negative. We were told we would only hear from them if he tested positive and we never did hear back and he got his test done. I took him, but I didnʼt get tested, and I wonʼt.

BB: Here's the latest in Ohio.

RS: Would love to see one for Florida. However how do you do that when we are finding out that the positive test results aren't even correct? It's really hard to trust any information any more.

ST: it was already posted and is in this thread, again.

RS: thank you, @ST!

TU: has anyone seen one for Minnesota?

UV: can she do one for AZ?

VW: @UV, yes, is love to see the breakdown of AZ, even though I'm sure half our numbers are wrong!

WX: @VW, agreed - we seem to have a lot of garbage numbers right now.

XY: would love one for Maryland also.

YZ: is there one for KY?

ZB: Has NC been published? If not, could you make one for us, Thanks!

YC: Thank you!!

XD: Oregon please!!


VF: I like these dot graphs. very easy to read

UG: FYI. 34 days in a row percent drop in hospitalizatoin and death #WeAreBeingPlayed [image of case rates from Oklahoma]

TH: aren't the death and hospitalization percentages dropping because the positive cases are going way up. I'm not very good at math, but I've been following daily deaths for a while and it seems pretty steady in Tulsa County. Either 1, 2 or 0 per day for several weeks.

UG: My point was they were showing this as a ravenous killing disease and death rates over 6% hospitalization at 16% and thatʼs just not the truth 98% of people will never even know they have it and I believe at least half or better of this nation will be exposed to it at sometime I also believe that most will never even know they have it

SI: where are you finding this view?

UG: Here you go and I have screenshots consecutive of about the last 30 days if you want to see any of them [link to visualizations from Oklahoma]

UG: This next is another site that give you raw information without a conclusion.

SI: thank you! Iʼve been trying to find a good source on the hospitalizations.

UG: And I do believe this is a serious situation however there is another website that is put together by people who pick and choose like here are the 10 biggest hospitals the way they worded it looks like weʼre almost completely out of beds when that is not the case I mean the news is bad enough when I try to put a spin on it I have been keeping a spreadsheet since we had five cases in Oklahoma. Truth is you canʼt find the truth anywhere not on the left or on the right your best to do your own math and your own research

UG: Both of the websites I shared with you or by volunteers but their data comes from the Oklahoma Department of health and you will see that the numbers match even want the main stream media puts out however they just put out the facts without the drama spin

SI: Agree. Its hard to find data to make any sense of the panic and fear being generated today. Appreciate your thoughts and context.

UG: You can re-click on the same post every day and it will be a fresh update you probably already knew that but I just wanted to mention that

RJ: hey @SI, love this page I believe the virus is real but I also believe we are being played I just canʼt put my finger on it Something very sinister going on. Why are people including Drs claiming that the hospitals are full and there are no beds

SI: I definitely think this is real, but the whole reaction just feels wrong. You talk to one person saying nope beds are empty and others saying they are full. It is really crazy and there does not seem to be a clear answer anywhere. Coupled with all the other stuff going on we are living in troubled times for sure.

BB: And all of them say to confirm it with your doctor if you get a positive result. “Used properly” is an important criterion. For example, we shouldnʼt use a ‘pregnancyʼ test for a man. It also doesnʼt make sense if a woman is menstruating.

BB: If a woman recently had a miscarriage or an abortion it would likely give a false positive. In fact, there are half a dozen ways these tests can yield false positives (even for men). So when should a woman use such a test? The answer is common sense... when she suspects that she might be pregnant.

BB: *Thatʼs what the test was designed for.*

BB: If we just started testing lots of people randomly, weʼd “discover” lots of pregnant people who arenʼt really pregnant. Perhaps one or two for every 100 persons we tested. Why would we want to do this? Other than clinical tests of our testing methodology, one reason we might do widespread testing like this could be because we wanted to give the impression that lots of folks were pregnant, when they really werenʼt.

QK: nice comparison

PL: Well Put

OM: Bam!

MO: This is so crazy that you brought this up today. I was having a discussion with a friend just last night who is a Nurse Practioner and I brought up the false positive tests and what not and she said well id suspect more false negative vs false positive because its like a pregnancy test it either detects the hormone or it doesn't. I didnt want to argue with her so I just dropped the covo. Lol.

LP: there are no false positive pregancy tests. Look into the data. There are no false positives. One must have hcg to be positive. Unless, one has testicular cancer...

KQ: Yes there are @LP. Molar pregnancy is one example. chorionic carcinoma is another

JR: If you've recently had a miscarriage the hcg is in your system for weeks. I had to test out my hcg. Other reasons the test could be positive are molar pregnancy or if a woman who naturally has a higher base level of hcg takes a super sensitive test. Cancers, molar pregnancy, and even chemical pregnancies can throw a false positive.

IS: I would argue a molar pregnancy or recent miscarriage isnʼt a false positive. There is truly HCG in the blood. The test is accurate. The HCG is really there. The understanding of the test as only representing pregnancy is the fallacy.

IS: A false positive is when you get // two lines without HCG being present.

IS: That is what is happening with CoVid testing, the virus isnʼt there at all but itʼs positive. Itʼs not a false positive to detect residual evidence of illness.

HT: One of the biggest PCR testing issues is there's no gold standard to test the test against so basically they are all completely unvalidated.

LM: I believe the false positive rate is about 30%. Now lets consider a university of 10,000 students that requires mandatory covid testing. That means 3000 students with a false positive!

GU: @LM, actually we literally have no idea what the false positive rate is...which is not good considering how heavily it's leaned on to make huge decisions.

FV: How can they make decisions that affect millions based on incorrect numbers. Itʼs not fair for people to have to shut down business for good because of shut downs based on them throwing numbers out there that donʼt add up. People can lose homes, cars, retirement, etc all because everyone is counting cases and deaths different and none of them are on the same page about the right way to do it and labs screwing up all over the place.

EW: And weʼd find the reverse. I had 3 pregnancy tests, all 3 negative. Son was born about 7 months later.

DX: TeemingCheesecake64, this. We keep talking about false positives here, but the rate of false negatives is a huge issue, as well.

EW: BogusSoy84, i have 2 relatives who just tested negative, so needless to say, Iʼm concerned for us older family members. I thought they were quarantining, but one young lady and her daughter are at the lake this weekend with friends. I truly hope she and her daughter are negative.

CY: Why are people getting tested if they arenʼt sick??? Or having a medical procedure?

CY: Because someone told you you MIGHT be a contagious carrier without any symptoms EVER and they made you believe you needed to behave as if youʼre sick, when youʼre not, so you donʼt “kill grandma”

CY: They changed your thought processes and mindset and you now live afraid thinking itʼs because you “care” and others donʼt...

CY: You justifying it for YOU is perfectly ok, for YOU trying to force it on others is not...Itʼd be amusing to me if the same methods hadnʼt been used for all other social agenda categories...

BZ: The asymptomatic transmission is the big lie, in my opinion.

ZY: If it were reality, they wouldnʼt stress about taking temperatures (the universal “symptom” of contagious) But people have LOST their common sense on this one itʼs befuddling and terrifying

YX: @CY yes! I was just thinking that this morning.

XW: @CY if more people "lived afraid" earlier, 140,000 people would be alive.

CY: Did you know approximately 2/3 of all covid deaths are nursing homes? Over half of all covid deaths are from 4 states? That the locations with the strictest restrictions (and fear) have the highest death counts? That it is a VIRUS??? Your statement is irresponsible inaccurate and illogical And speculation based on propaganda

WV: @CY I think maybe for medical procedures it's to ensure the staff will be ok? But they wear PPE. Not sure. That is why no symptoms no test was probably always correct?

CY: @WV, prescreening makes sense for many reasons in a hospital(surgical) setting for multiple issues But yeah, no symptoms, no pre test, has been practice for decades except very specific situations... and I get it but I do not get this craziness of volunteering for a nasal lobotomy (my description) for no purpose

WV: @CY, same! I don't need one!

CY: @XW, petty would be attempting to shame or guilt someone for having a different perspective or opinion

CY: I was not “whining,” btw

CY: Don't presume

CY: @XW, if the local governments had not mandated that covid patients be put into nursing homes... If if if... shoulda, woulda, coulda

CY: You canʼt “STOP” a virus

CY: Where EXACTLY are you trying to place blame for deaths with or from a VIRUS?? And how many deaths have OFFICIALLY been confirmed?? (Those numbers wonʼt be accurate for years, but please, do tell)

VU: @XW, if the governor's of several states hadn't forced long term care facilities to take residents they knew had COVID, the numbers would be thousands lower too.

UT: @XW such an assumption

TS: Precisely. And by doing [unreliable testing] with Covid, itʼs created an entire entity of mistrust. And the thinking, responsible consumer actually craves real data. Throw anything at us thatʼs factual and let us integrate the risk and response into our individual lives. The lack of it is mind blowing.

SR: @TS, but they have been pushing the agenda that we can't possibly know what's best for ourselves, we need nanny state to make "healthful" decisions for us. Lol. And I agree, mind-blowing.

TS: @SR it's like Wag the Dog, only with a healthcare spin.

RQ: The CDC came out yesterday reducing isolation on a positive test to 10 days and no need to re-test. I.e. the tests do not mean you are infectious I.e. lots of false positives from people long over any risk of spread. Now letʼs stop testing healthy people and focus on where we need to have concerns. Do you take a pregnancy test every time you have sex?

QP: @RQ, how do you trust it was really positive?

RQ: @QP, thereʼs still the risk your first test was false but in many states by going back over and over youʼre adding to the numbers and creating a very false picture.

QP: i get that but if you don't have it in the first place.... not sure why people are getting tested. If you need a hospital that's a different thing. To get tested just to get tested is a waste. They aren't giving you medicine.

RQ: theyʼre told to get tested - the tracers, their employer, their need to have an out patient procedure - thereʼs so many reasons people with no symptoms are pressured to test, hypochondriacs - literally the line at the drive thru site near me is never ending. Hay fever season in NC is about to start so the tests will explode with people who have

PO: Iʼm in NC and I sneezed in the store I held it all in cause I didnʼt wanna yell..”I have allergies”

RQ: I sneeze after I eat - a total sneezing fit - oh the looks I get

QK: The CLAIM is that asymptomatic people are more dangerous because they can spread the virus when they don't know it. I highlight "claim" because I don't know who said it or what data they have to support that.

QK: It has also been said about the common flu that you catch it and can spread it in the first 24 hours as the virus is building up within your body. You will not yet have symptoms because it still has to build up within your cells. I don't know what you have to do to spread it, though - serious kiss on the lips or just walk within a few feet of someone?

QK: That also seems to depend on how responsive people are to feeling sick. When you start to feel sick, do you go home from work or "tough it out"? I am sure there is some amount of building of the virus you need in your system before you can spread it

ON: Why are we now doing such widespread testing for this virus, but not for other tests? This didn't happen during H1N1, or the flu every year, or strep throat, or anything! So why now?

NM: @ON, election year

ON: exactly!

ML: Many women take multiple pregnancy tests to juuusst make sure. If she gets three positive results, there is still just one pregnancy. Too bad positive covid tests aren't all counted that way...

CY: @ML, right??? I think thatʼs the method that irritates me most!!! One person can account for more than one check mark on the positive test count

CY: They count the positives like the emojis on a fb video or “story”

CY: You can hit that button until the cows come home

CY: They need to count them like a comment emoji ONE PER PERSON

CY: Especially considering how many have been PROVEN wrong (in both categories)

BB: @ML cracked me up. Great point.

LK: @ML yes! This drives me insane about all the testing. Letʼs say I go get tested. Iʼm given an identification number with that test. And Iʼm positive. Later I go get tested again, it would make the most sense to use the same ID number so they could continue to track me as a positive case.

SR: I donʼt know about other states, but KY is removing duplicates. Itʼs listed on the count every day how many duplicates were removed that day.

CY: @SR, I don't trust Andy or his health department lackies...

ML: @BB, I have taken a *few* of those...

TH: AND there is a sure-fire, 100% accurate cross-check to assure that your positive pregnancy was not a false positive. There's a baby.

ML: @TH but if you tested positive three times, will you have triplets???

KJ: To me, daily trends show more information on how we are doing. That's just me though.

JI: @KJ, @BB posted recently how they do these and other visuals to give all the different way people like to see info. These are helpful for those that need to see the big picture, or those that are in fear over the numbers. If he has one of the tags on the post Iʼd read it. Maybe check the word graphs.

IH: These are just to help people keep their fear in perspective. They are not for detailed analysis or trend tracking.

KJ: Just saying that from my perspective I can tell better how we are doing by seeing the daily trends. I think there is less stress if you see the daily numbers going down and also can see death/hospitalizations to cases trending down. Like I said though, thatʼs just me.

HG: @KJ some “daily” numbers actually arenʼt from one day. South Carolina updates daily and also notes that the numbers may include cases as far back as June.

KJ: ExcitableCranberries73 yes Iʼm aware of that as well. But it appears to be the best information we have for trends

GF: At the conclusion of 2020, it will be very informative to see this kind of graphic for ALL deaths in a given state. Color code each cause of death.

FE: Ohio Liberation did a pie chart for Ohio. I think someone is trying to do one for the USA. [insert pie chart of Ohio deaths]

GF: by the end of the year that slice will be even smaller, even accounting for an uptick at the end of the year.

ED: They also have this dot map for Covid. Good site to follow if you are interested.

FG: thank you for this!!

DE: thank you, I shared.

BB: The New Mexico website also provides total number of cases by zip code. But they are careful at every turn to provide little if any trend data, and practically nothing about deaths. The site is not very useful for learning where you stand. Since they are so opaque with the data, I suspect they want to stay shut down.

JK: thanks...sharing. As if we didn't know.

DC: The NM governer does want to keep the state locked down. And because she isn't providing data as to why (where are the peaks happening, etc) she is getting substantial flack for it.

CB: Lawsuits even.

BA: Things aren't really as bad as she's making them out to be, and they never have been, but the only way she can keep the narrative going is to intentionally obfuscate things.

ZX: @BA, ah, but SHE told us restaurants were spreading the virus. However, no stats.

YW: usually they are Thursday afternoon.

XV: Speaking of state websites, did anyone else notices that Georgia changed their Cases/Deaths graph again. It is showing multiples more deaths per day than it was yesterday. Anyone know what is going on? 19-daily-status-report

WU: Correct, the data is opaque so one has to collect it manually. When you add % of fatalities in LTC facilities and among the Native Americans, you really question the lockdown for all citizens.

VT: It's not "they" (as in everyday citizens) who want to stay shut down. It's our governor and some of the mayors who do. Most sheriffs (of both parties), most mayors, small business owners, restaurants, and the people who have been unable to work since the beginning of March want to go back to work!

US: More $$$ for the state to stay closed imo.

VT: Meanwhile, about a quarter of locally owned small businesses and restaurants have closed their doors forever. And there is talk of raising taxes, to boot. We went from the biggest budget surplus in decades (under our last governor) to biggest spending splurge and biggest deficit in decades in just two years.

BB: the doom & gloomers assure us that a massive wave is building, but we will have to wait a month or two before the bodies begin to pile up in the streets. And each time we've heard this stale narrative, we note that the patterns in the data do not confirm this. But they nevertheless continue to spread their message of fear. And no surprise, the piles of dead bodies in the streets do not materialize.

BB: Instead, follow the data. Of course, sometimes an observed surge in cases in a particular region is real (e.g. Nevada several months ago). And in those instances, we see confirming corresponding increases in deaths numbers within a week or so. We are not minimizing real infections; they can be deadly. (Please drive carefully.)

BB: But they do seem to be scaring lots of folks who don't know the data. Kinda sad. They think they are doing people a favor by scaring them. I don't think so. In fact, I know so, based upon the excess deaths data. So the doom & gloomers are just gonna have to come up with another way to lie with statistics if they want to try and scare us. Try to be creative this time?

TR: Are you saying that reported deaths two weeks from now isn’t practically guaranteed to be quite a bit higher than they are now? Can the cases tell us nothing?

SQ: The only way cases can be meaningful is if the testing is done in a controlled way and the details of the results are included. Otherwise, essentially worthless. For months cases have been rising and deaths falling. Haven't you noticed?

TR: Do you you think the deaths two weeks from now have any likelihood of being lower than the last several days?

RP: Here is a side by side of New Jersey from a few days ago. Cases (left) per day are at an all time high. They started climbing at the end of September. We are now 8 weeks in and there is still NO corresponding surge in deaths (right) but we are still getting DAILY messages from the governor about how desperate our situation is. [graphs of New Jersey case and death counts]

OP: "challenges in the attribution of the cause of death...may not be an accurate count of the true number of deaths from CoVid-19"... could it be that deaths are attributed to covid that simply are not covid-related?

Sad thing is, I’ve been showing you guys gobs of Covid data for months which contradicted the narrative back then, but has only been confirmed today. What’s the difference? Seems like the data and the truth are irrelevant unless the public is informed and is willing to demand action. And the public is behaving rather compliant these days. Well, unless we act, we will never have a fair election in this country again.

Instead, he said that we should look at the hospitalizations (which I have shown repeatedly do not necessarily represent active, infectious COVID-19 disease, or ANY form of COVID-19 at all.) Unless the hospitalization data can be significantly cleaned up, it is not a good metric to follow.

The other metric he vaguely mentioned was to look at your specific county. This, I absolutely agree with. He did not elaborate on what we should look at specifically now that he's abandoning the OPHAS.

But I have a suggestion.

Each county deals with its data differently. Some are faster at reporting, some are slower. Some rely heavily on positive tests, others are thorough and make sure to pin down the date of symptom onset (if there are any symptoms). Some counties count 'hospitalizations' for COVID-19 when they happen 8 months before or after onset of symptoms (neither situation would be for a currently infectious disease), other counties have very tight data sets that have few hospitalization oddities. Some counties are also very liberal with what deaths are attributed to COVID, while others, again, are very stringent.

Because of these county by county differences, it is not always helpful looking at the whole state in aggregate, or even by region. One needs to look at each individual county in order to first determine whether that county is measuring just infectious, symptomatic disease, or if the county in question accepts just about anything as 'COVID.' If the county has 'clean' data, we are better able to see the actual shape of disease spread in that county. And for those counties playing fast and loose with the data, be able to call them out for the distortions that they are.

QO: new cases by onset date, onset vs. hospital admission date, and days from onset to date of death.

: I have described the use of all three of these graphs in previous posts, but I describe them again, briefly, in the figure captions. For this post I am posting them for the full state's data so everyone can see how muddled the aggregate data is before looking at the individual counties.It will probably take me a few days to post these graphs for all of the counties, so bear with me!

: Since the US has substantially over-reported its number of deaths, it makes it look like it did a worse job managing its epidemic compared to other countries. Of course, it depends how you define things and how you report the numbers. And whether quality of healthcare vs. epidemic strategies are your priorities. If you report the number of deaths divided by the population the state strategies can look bad. If you report the number of deaths divided by the number of “cases,” not so much. Because states can just keep testing in order to increase the denominator until the numbers are more favorable. So now, it will be a political war over the right way to report the numbers.

CC: People just bend the statistics to back their agenda

PN: I really want to support Trump here--but I had to shake my head when he was so adamant about looking at deaths to cases. I don't understand why that would be a useful statistic

NL: @PN, because it reflects on quality of care vs strategy of dealing with the epidemic.

PN: @NL, That doesn't make it empirically useful. I understand the care aspect, but obviously testing more asymptomatic people boosts your number, which makes your care look astounding. This, in a nation that spends more than any other nation on healthcare, but usually ranks near the bottom of healthcare metrics.

JR: Because as deaths fall vs number of positive cases, it shows we are possibly treating the disease in a better way? Is my logic working?

MK: There have also likely been changes in who gets tested. For instance when the epidemic started only those with dr approval were tested, people who were showing symptoms. Now, for instance in CA if you want to go to the dentist, you need a test beforehand. Some people with little or no symptoms likely would drive up the positive number but will not likely die of covid itself.

GF: An obvious metric is the asymptomatic people, not to mention the age groups infected. If a large percentage of people have no symptoms but test positive, that has no correlation at all with healthcare quality. In order to bring healthcare into any discussion, you'd have to know how many have required hospitalization versus recovery rates.

GF: @JR, "Because as deaths fall vs number of positive cases, it shows we are possibly treating the disease in a better way?" That would depend on a multitude of other factors. First off being, how many even required treatment?

JR: @GF, True. It could mean that symptoms are becoming less severe. You are correct.

MK: Right now, every college student in the country requires a negative test to go back. If college students mirror the overall prevalence, yet remain asymptomatic or lightly symptomatic, the numbers are ready to be shifted in a large way. More tests, more cases, fewer hospitalizations and deaths.

KQ: The COVID vaccine will be attributed to virus decline and control but we know from data not paid for profit by Pharma that the decline in community spread has already taken place prior to the vaccine. Further thought, what if the vaccine has a higher death rate association than the disease itself?

SI: this sounds like polio, which was nearly eradicated when the vaccine came out.

LJ: exactly!

KI: For anyone curious on risk vs. benefits. You can find links to vaccine inserts and make informed choices for yourself and your families [heart emoji]

WV: thank you for all your hard work to bring our country the best medical information!!

ZZ: The best evidence that I have in my hand that elementary and high school kids don't easy catch or spread Covid is from the detailed data provided by the state of Florida. Of the 8,764 deaths in Florida attributed to Covid, only one of them was under the age of ten, three were fifteen or younger, and only seven were eighteen or younger. 7 / 8764 = 0.08% for grades K to 12. Less than one death per thousand deaths. And at these young ages there are always special circumstances involved. We can easily protect one in a thousand, and we should. There are lots of ways. In terms of cases, notice how precipitously the data fall starting at 20 yrs of age, then dropping even more below age fifteen. Of the 544,000 cases, only 4% were under the age of ten, and 9% aged eighteen or younger. And these kids were not at school...

ZZ: The European DNA and contact tracing studies confirmed that the overwhelming primary vector for children was adult-to-adult-to-child (in the household), not child-to-child-to-adult. Looks like that's what going on in Florida too. So in my humble opinion, kids desperately need to be in school. For myriad reasons, including their mental health, social development, physical development, and their academic growth. And even if the kidlets did spread it to each other, that might actually be the best thing... they would be building natural immunity at extremely low risk. Of course, if there are students or teachers with special vulnerabilities, we should protect them. But everyone else should be back in school. Sports, music, drama, math, science, reading, writing, history, language, romance. So many good reasons to be there. Get 'er done.

CD: But instead, the narrative by USA Today and other sources is to scare people into believing that COVID is just as widespread as ever, if not worse and we are all more at risk because of all the untested people running around.

TT: let's not look at the # of cases, instead let's study the # of hospitalizations and deaths......Most people are at home self quarantining.

CD: hospitalizations are down as well. I only mentioned the cases being down because the new narrative is that testing is down nationwide. Whether people get tested or not, those that are most ill will wind up at the hospital, and hospitalizations are down as well.

XX: The number of cases is irrelevant since they won't tell us symptomatic vs. non-symptomatic. Hospitalizations and deaths.

JH: @XX, I know and am agreeing with that, which is why I posted the Twitter feed from the governor stating hospitalizations are down. But, now that hospitalizations are down, some in the media are saying testing is down and that COVID is just as rampant as always, which I donʼt believe.

XX: the media has to keep up the stupidity since NONE of the data actually matches the hysteria.

JH: @XX, it is just infuriating to me. The COVID nasal test is painful (I had a similar test for flu) and people arenʼt exactly chomping at the bit to get tested, unless they have symptoms, know someone who has it, or have to for work/school. Maybe people arenʼt testing as much because fewer people have symptoms

XX: The colleges are requiring it and then freaking everyone out when they are positive. If they aren't sick, who cares. UNC Chapel Hill just 100% virtual after starting back to class. Over a couple of cases. They are all insane. One college went 100% virtual after kids had already reported and have refused refunds for room & board... Fun times.

SS: @JH, why on earth would anyone think that hospitalizations are down because testing is down? That makes no sense at all. [thinking emoji] I could see them saying fewer active cases are reported because testing is down, but fewer hospitalizations? By that logic, we should just stop testing and it will magically go away. [laugh emoji]

JH: Basically the thought process is to overlook the fact that hospitalizations are down because that doesnʼt fit the narrative that things are getting better. So, the focus is now on testing being down. [facepalm emoji]

KL: @JH, my husband comes in contact with doctors/nurses/hospital admin/family of staff on a weekly basis here in Central Florida... he always asks their experience at their hospital and has yet to come across anyone that said they were overwhelmed. Most times they say that it's empty.

JH: I follow the weekly/biweekly updates Orange County provides. I find they share the needed details without the hype and political spin. The Health Director here has been saying for a while now that our hospitals are fine.

MN: I agree...just like more people were getting tested when more people had symptoms.

NO: @WX, what is your assessment on the fact that the deaths increased at roughly the same time many counties issued mask mandates? And from my research itʼs the counties with the mask mandates that have the most deaths. Been very curious about this for our great state of Florida.

ST: Interesting. Do you mind me asking where you got that information? Iʼd like to look into this more myself. Please and thank you. [smiling emoji]

NO: I used the county models for Florida and got curious as to why we were doing relatively ok and then all of sudden end of June/beginning of July we started seeing rapid inclines of deaths in certain counties. I then googled what counties in Florida had mask mandates and when they went into effect. The results Iʼm afraid didnʼt surprise me. Now Iʼm not saying that masks donʼt work but I truly feel there is something to this.

PQ: Correlation vs. Causality? A hypothesis could be that increasing cases caused mask mandates and increased deaths.

ST: @NO, very interesting indeed. Thank you!

Anti-mask protests in the US amplify existing anti-establishment narratives in American political culture that involve rejecting elite narratives. These data visualizations simultaneously challenge scientific consensus and represent an act of resistance against the stifling influence of central government, big business, and academia. Moreover, their simultaneous appropriation of scientific rhetoric and rejection of scientific authority also reflects long standing strategies of Christian fundamentalists seeking to challenge the secularist threat of evolutionary biology.

So how do these groups diverge from scientific orthodoxy if they are using the same data? We have identified a few sleights of hand that contribute to the broader epistemological crisis we identify between these groups and the majority of scientific researchers. For instance, anti-mask users argue that there is an outsized emphasis on deaths versus cases: if the current datasets are fundamentally subjective and prone to manipulation (e.g., increased levels of faulty testing), then deaths are the only reliable markers of the pandemic’s severity. Even then, these groups believe that deaths are an additionally problematic category because doctors are using a COVID diagnosis as the main cause of death (i.e., people who die because of COVID) when in reality there are other factors at play (i.e., dying with but not because of COVID). Since these categories are subject to human interpretation, especially by those who have a vested interest in reporting as many COVID deaths as possible, these numbers are vastly over-reported, unreliable, and no more significant than the flu.

Most fundamentally, anti-mask groups mistrust the scientific establishment because they believe that the institution has been corrupted by profit motives and by progressive politics hellbent on increasing social control.

Another point of contention is that of lived experience: in many of these cases, users do not themselves know a person who has experienced COVID, and the statistics they see on the news show the severity of the pandemic in vastly different parts of the country. Since they do not see their experience reflected in the narratives they consume, they look for local data to help guide their decision-making. But since many of these datasets do not always exist on such a granular level, this information gap feeds into a larger social narrative about the government’s suppression of critical data and the media’s unwillingness to substantively engage with the subjectivity of coronavirus data reporting.

Most fundamentally, anti-mask groups mistrust the scientific establishment because they believe that science has been corrupted by profit motives and by progressive politics hellbent on increasing social control. Tobacco companies, they rightly argue, historically funded science that misled the public about whether or not smoking caused cancer. Pharmaceutical companies are therefore in a similar boat: companies like Moderna and Pfizer stand to profit billions from the vaccine, so it is in their interest to inflate the pandemic’s death toll as much as possible. Knowledge from the CDC, academia, or pharmaceutical companies therefore needs to be subject to more rigorous scrutiny and not accepted as consensus. Arguing that anti-maskers simply need more scientific literacy is to characterize their approach as inexplicably extreme, and these users interpret these calls as further evidence of the “Radical Left’s” impulse to condescend to citizens who actually espouse common sense.

Making and interpreting data visualizations are not objective or dispassionate processes; they are social and political endeavors that animate stories shaped by personal experiences and cultural interpretations.

Convincing anti-maskers to support public health measures in the age of COVID-19 will require more than “better” visualizations, data literacy campaigns, or increased public access to data. Rather, it requires a sustained engagement with the social world of visualizations and the people who make or interpret them. While academic science is traditionally a system for producing knowledge within a laboratory, validating it through peer review, and sharing results within subsidiary communities, anti-maskers reject this hierarchical social model, as they espouse a vision of science that is radically egalitarian and individualist.

Calls for data or scientific literacy therefore risk recapitulating narratives that anti-mask views are the product of individual ignorance rather than coordinated information campaigns that rely heavily on networked participation. Powerful research and media organizations paid for by the tobacco or fossil fuel industries have historically capitalized on the skeptical impulse that the “science simply isn’t settled,” prompting people to simply “think for themselves” to horrifying ends. The attempted coup on January 6, 2021 has similarly illustrated that well-calibrated, well- funded systems of coordinated disinformation can be particularly dangerous when they are designed to appeal to skeptical people. While individual insurrectionists are no doubt to blame for their own acts of violence, the coup relied on a collective effort fanned by people questioning, interacting, and sharing these ideas with other people. These skeptical narratives are powerful because they resonate with these these people’s lived experience and—crucially—because they are posted by influential accounts across influential platforms.

Understanding the way that anti-mask groups think about science is crucial to grappling with the contested state of expertise in American democracy. In a study of Tea Party supporters in Louisiana, sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild explains the intractable partisan rift in American politics by emphasizing the importance of a “deep story”: a subjective prism that people use in order to make sense of the world and guide the way they vote. For Tea Party activists, this deep story revolved around anger towards a federal system ruled by liberal elites who pander to the interests of ethnic and religious minorities while curtailing the advantages that White, Christian traditionalists view as their American birthright. Anti-maskers’ deep story draws from similar wells of resentment, but adds a particular emphasis on the appropriation of scientific knowledge by a paternalistic, condescending elite that expects intellectual subservience rather than critical thinking from the lay public.

To be clear, we are not promoting these views. Instead, we seek to better understand how “analyzing data” can take on different meanings during a time of crisis. As the data visualizations from anti-mask users show, simply increasing access to raw data or improving the quality of data visualizations will not bolster public consensus about scientific findings. Making and interpreting data visualizations are not objective or dispassionate processes; they are social and political endeavors that animate stories shaped by personal experiences and cultural interpretations. This story is about how a public health crisis—refracted through seemingly objective numbers and data visualizations—is part of a broader battleground about scientific epistemology and democracy in modern American life.