When The New York Times issued a newsletter entitled: “A misleading CDC Number,” it was referring to the U.S. CDC, but could likewise apply to the Maine CDC’s handling of its own records reviews in respect to previously unreported COVID-19 cases. These get reported as “additional cases” and added to the next daily case count, whether the older cases occurred days, weeks or potentially months ago. This often results in single-day false spikes appearing in headlines, regardless of how the CDC tries to emphasize that missed cases are posted whenever acquired by the agency. Thus, the combination of case totals reported in news releases (broadcast or not) potentially becomes part of misleading “surges” in daily cases, when finally appearing to the public.

Even the state’s CDC director, Dr. Nirav Shah, admits that this kind of accounting tends to “push the ‘scary’ button” (his words), but he doesn’t acknowledge the agency’s own responsibility when the media reports out the additional cases as being contemporaneous with any same-day new case totals.

It would be even more helpful, and less alarming, to simply refrain from the misleading practice of consistently leading off its public briefings with this “apples-and-oranges” figure, which is merely an arithmetic sum of the day’s new and additional cases, thus creating an artificial, higher number, which the media naturally gravitates toward in its quest for ratings and revenue.

Unfortunately, when the press does bother to reference the disconnection, the detail tends to show up on a continuing page (for print), or not at all (particularly for broadcast). In fact, it’s a common occurrence for Maine’s TV nightly newscasts to display the additional figure on the screen, correctly labeled as such, while the anchorperson instead refers to it as a misleading “new cases today.” This only unnecessarily scares people.


Max Beichert


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