“Extremely Likely” does not mean what you think it means

“Extremely Likely” does not mean what you think it means

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Greta Thunberg says it is “extremely likely” she had Covid-19 during the past few weeks. Most every country where people who have symptoms bad enough to get tested find that 90% or more of those tested have a negative test result – meaning, they do not have Covid-19. In other words, if you have symptoms – generally pretty bad symptoms – there is a 1 in 10 chance or less that you have Covid-19.

Her claim of “extremely likely” she had Covid-19 is inappropriate. It is possible, but it is not “extremely likely” based on the available data. Her thinking displays an unfortunate lack of understanding of how probability works. She is merely making an assertion.

I too could argue that I had Covid-19. I just spent about 3 weeks with cold symptoms, just over 2 weeks of that with a minor and unusual dry cough and a low grade, 99 degree F fever, and very briefly, a sore throat. Several people with confirmed Covid-19 said this is exactly what they experienced – and nothing more. Does that mean I had Covid-19? No. There are many possible causes of these symptoms. In my state, until days ago, to qualify for a test, you had to have already been so sick that you were admitted to a hospital (not an ER – admitted to overnight stay in a patient room). Then, and only then, would they test you. In spite of this, over 95% of those tested had a negative test result. The likelihood that I had Covid-19, merely based on common symptoms, is very low, not “extremely high”.

It is well known, due to a Facebook software defect, that her social media content is managed and often written by her father and a climate activist in India. She and her staff are masters of propaganda messaging – her Instagram page is particularly slick with professional level photography. She exerts much influence.

Many people will read her comments – she has a large following – and will also conclude they have had or have Covid-19. In my state, about 5% of ER visits are now reported to be the “worried well” seeking Covid-19 testing. And that’s after everyone is screened by telephone and counseled not to go the ER, for the most part. That extra 5%, including necessary PPE requirements, is putting a strain on hospital emergency rooms. This is the direct effect of misguided propaganda messaging – she is definitely not the only one sending confusing messages on Covid-19!

Greta’s full statement from her Instagram page, follows.

Th last two weeks I’ve stayed inside. When I returned from my trip around Central Europe I isolated myself (in a borrowed apartment away from my mother and sister) since the number of cases of COVID-19 (in Germany for instance) were similar to Italy in the beginning. Around ten days ago I started feeling some symptoms, exactly the same time as my father – who traveled with me from Brussels. I was feeling tired, had shivers, a sore throat and coughed. My dad experienced the same symptoms, but much more intense and with a fever.
In Sweden you can not test yourself for COVID-19 unless you’re in need of emergent medical treatment. Everyone feeling ill are told to stay at home and isolate themselves.
I have therefore not been tested for COVID-19, but it’s extremely likely that I’ve had it, given the combined symptoms and circumstances.

Now I’ve basically recovered, but – AND THIS IS THE BOTTOM LINE: I almost didn’t feel ill. My last cold was much worse than this! Had it not been for someone else having the virus simultainously I might not even have suspected anything. Then I would just have thought I was feeling unusually tired with a bit of a cough.
And this it what makes it so much more dangerous. Many (especially young people) might not notice any symptoms at all, or very mild symptoms. Then they don’t know they have the virus and can pass it on to people in risk groups.
We who don’t belong to a risk group have an enormous responsibility, our actions can be the difference between life and death for many others.

Please keep that in mind, follow the advice from experts and your local authorities and #StayAtHome to slow the spread of the virus. And remember to always take care of each other and help those in need.

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