Miss. lawmaker’s social media post citing coronavirus statistics ‘not accurate,' state health officer says

Updated: Jul. 15, 2020 at 9:09 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - While there’s no shortage of social media comments from people who think Mississippi’s strategy to slow the spread of COVID-19 isn’t the right move, posts from current and former lawmakers echo some of those sentiments, including one dubbed “not accurate” by the state’s health officer.

State Rep. Dana Criswell (R-DeSoto County) posted on Facebook Tuesday that 99.9 percent of the county’s residents were not positive for the virus, and it had a 99.99 percent survival rate there as well.

Desoto County COVID Confirmed Cases per capita .96 of 1% (99.91% not positive) Fatalities per capita .010 of 1% 99.99% survival

Posted by Dana Criswell for Mississippi on Monday, July 13, 2020

He then claimed the Magnolia State had a survival rate of 99.96 percent in a subsequent comment under that post.

Criswell got this by dividing the number of total confirmed cases in DeSoto County by the population to get the percent of those who had the virus.

By then assuming that everyone else didn’t have it, he concluded more than 99 percent was negative.

“I posted those numbers because they’re good numbers, because they’re something we should look at and say, ‘You know what, we’re coming out of this problem. This issue that we’re having is getting better.‘”

When asked about those calculations, state health officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs disagreed with the representative’s conclusion.

“I’ll have to go back and look at those numbers, but those sound way off from what we’ve seen. There may be some strange way they’re getting sliced up,” Dobbs said. “DeSoto’s a hotspot right now. They’re having a lot of cases right now. I just think there’s some error in the calculation. It’s just not accurate.”

Criswell’s established “survival rate” of 99.96 percent for Mississippi and 99.99 percent for DeSoto County could also be misconstrued to imply the mortality rate from COVID-19 is 0.04 percent statewide and 0.01 percent for the county, which is grossly inaccurate.

Mortality rate is actually calculated by dividing the number of coronavirus deaths into the total number of cases in the state.

That means Tuesday’s statewide mortality rate would be 3.4 percent, not 0.04 percent. DeSoto County’s mortality rate is also higher than Criswell’s: 1 percent versus 0.01 percent.

Assuming 99 percent survive could be problematic because of the long-term problems that sometimes come with COVID-19 diagnoses, health experts say.

Criswell said he doesn’t believe his post would make people decide to go against mask mandates or social distancing requirements in some of the state’s counties.

“I’m sure there are some who may come to that conclusion, but, in general, I trust people. I believe when you give people the truth and the facts, they’re gonna make better decisions,” Criswell said. “So, to suggest that we don’t give people facts because they might make a wrong decision somehow suggests that the politicians and the bureaucrats are smarter than the people. I put my trust in the average citizen to make that decision.”

In previous weeks, some on social media have used those calculation assumptions -- based in fact -- to assume the state’s COVID-19 recoveries are much higher than they are, by subtracting the number of deaths by total cases.

The logic, one poster said, seems sound: if a person hasn’t died, they’ve recovered.

If that were true, the number of people presumed to have recovered in Mississippi would be 37,277, much higher than the actual number: 25,932.

The official number of recoveries is significantly lower because sometimes it takes months for people to recuperate.

Criswell said he just presented the data without commentary because he felt it was some good news during the pandemic.

“It’s been an amazing thing to me to watch how people react when they are scared, because people are afraid, and what I fear is that politicians are using that fear to manipulate people in either direction. And that makes me angry,” Criswell said.

Criswell said he’s not accusing the governor or state leaders of doing that, talking instead about fear being used on a national level.

However, former state lawmaker and Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Foster continues to accuse those in Mississippi government of being complicit in “communism” because of the restrictions already placed on thirteen Mississippi counties to slow the spread.

I’ve prayed and thought a lot about this. This is going to really upset and even anger some people, if it does then you...

Posted by Robert Foster on Friday, July 10, 2020

“This is about standing up to a Governor (sic) that is acting like a Dictator (sic),” Foster wrote on Facebook days ago. “I for one am not going to let you threaten and treat honest hard working tax paying (sic) citizens so disrespectfully, without any push back (sic). You work for us and we need to remind you of that.”

Foster, who owns a local business in DeSoto County, tweeted “state and local governments need to start telling people the truth and stop peddling fear” and called those behind the mask mandates and restrictions “Marxists.”

He also has said publicly that he will not wear a mask nor enforce the mask mandate in his business.

When asked if he would like to respond to Foster’s social media commentary, Gov. Tate Reeves declined, instead choosing to highlight national leaders who have embraced these measures.

“It became very clear over the last several days, and certainly in talking with Dr. Birx today, that President Trump and his administration support the wearing of masks and I think it’s critically important for the people of our state,” Reeves said. “DeSoto County, right now, is one of six counties in the entire state of Mississippi that’s being looked at by the White House, and they are extremely concerned by the number of cases. And there are those locally that can choose to ignore that, and that’s certainly their prerogative.”

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