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The Stats-Scare Before Christmas?

On Monday, September 21, I showed that according to Gov. Roy Cooper’s own metrics for reopening, the state should be open. All those metrics (click them for the charts) — COVID-like illnesses (CLI), cases, positive tests as a percentage of total tests, and hospitalizations — had not only been trending down for weeks, but were in fact months past their peaks.

Shortly afterward, on Friday, September 25, Cooper’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the state bureaucracy providing the state data on COVID-19, announced a major change. They would now be adding “probable cases” from antigen testing, including retroactively, into the state’s count of COVID cases. It provided a one-day increase of 6,142 cases and upended data tracking.

Immediately, the state’s case counts and tests returning positive were suddenly right back to where Cooper’s clear preference for keeping personal and business restrictions against people needed them to be. Cooper and media have since acted as if the case count has suddenly spiked without explanation, except that people are misbehaving.

COVID-like illnesses (CLI)

There is another inflationary metric on the horizon: COVID-like illnesses (CLI). It has been steadily declining over the past few months.

But what is “COVID-like”? According to the CDC, it is “fever and cough or shortness of breath or difficulty breathing or the presence of coronavirus diagnosis code” but excluding specific “mentions of flu and influenza.” If you go to the emergency room with a fever and cough, or you have shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, then unless you have already been diagnosed with flu, it’s considered CLI.

You may notice that those general symptoms are also prevalent with bad colds and flus. In fact, the very idea of CLI borrows from the CDC’s annual surveillance of ILI — that is, influenza-like illnesses.

Fall marks the beginning of cold and flu season. According to the CDC, cold and flu season really gets going in December. It stands to reason that CLI will increase owing to the annual return of colds and flus.


Source: CDC

‘Tis the season?

Cooper’s last Executive Order warns of “reinstating” the few restrictions he has lifted since April if CLI increases (as we head into cold and flu season), if cases increase or if the percentage of tests returning positive increase (as DHHS adds in a new category of testing), and if hospitalizations increase (as DHHS continues not to distinguish between going to the hospital because of COVID and being in the hospital for something else and testing positive for COVID). Here is that language:

WHEREAS, should there be an increase in the percentage of emergency department visits that are due to COVID-19-like illness, a consistent increase in the number of laboratory-confirmed cases, an increase in the positive tests as a percent of total tests, an increase in COVID-19-related hospitalizations that threaten the ability of the health care system to properly respond, or should the state’s ability to conduct testing and tracing be compromised, it may be necessary to reinstate certain restrictions eased by this Executive Order so as to protect the health, safety, and welfare of North Carolinians.

For a governor who closed churches till the courts intervened, vetoed celebrations of Independence Day, and told athletes’ parents they couldn’t even spread out in a 51,000-seat football stadium safely, having a chance to cancel Christmas would be … well, I suppose like Christmas.

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

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