April 6, 2020

ANNALS OF IRRESPONSIBLE REPORTING: Washington Post (free link): Grocery Workers are Beginning to Die of Coronavirus.

The reporter tells us that at least four grocery store workers have died from Covid-19. Do we know if they caught the virus at their place of work? The reporter doesn’t say, and probably didn’t even ask. Meanwhile, the reporter never stops to ask whether “at least four” is a sufficiently large number that grocery store workers should be concerned.

So here is some quick math. About 2.5 million Americans work in grocery stores. About one in every 30 thousand Americans has now died of Coronavirus. Taking the simplest route, you would expect approximately 83 grocery, or 2.5 million/30 thousand, grocery store workers to have died of the virus.

If you were doing at least a semi-serious statistical analysis, you would then have to modify the 83 figure by age, preexisting conditions, etc., and almost certainly get a lower tally. But the point is, despite the tenor of the article the fact that at least four grocery store workers have died of the virus doesn’t give you any useful information about whethert being a grocery store worker puts you at special risk.

I’m not saying there isn’t an increased risk, and I do appreciate that the workers are coming to work every day and *potentially* putting themselves at higher risk. I am saying, reporting on “at least four deaths” out of 2.5 million grocery store workers isn’t actionable information. Scare stories like this, that provide no context, with reporters who don’t ask basic questions, are just irresponsible.

UPDATE (FROM GLENN): Why are grocery workers dying? I blame reusable shopping bags! Will no one stop the madness?

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