By Gerry Silverstein
Author’s disclaimer: I have followed and recorded COVID postings on the Vermont Department of Health (VDOH) dashboard every day (except one). I have a PhD in Virology. I have studied the interaction of viruses with humans for 5 decades, and I have taught infectious diseases and epidemiology for more than two decades in two medical schools. I believe the numbers I present in this Commentary and calculations I make are accurate. However, being human, an imperfect species, mistakes are always possible.
I have written a commentary on the Vermont Daily Chronicle before (September 29, 2021) detailing what I believed was anomalous data posting on the VDOH COVID Dashboard. Key points in that Commentary are presented below.
On September 24, 2021, the cumulative number of people living in Vermont listed as White, who had had a positive test for the SARS-CoV-2 virus (a “case”) since recording of cases first began in Vermont, decreased by 1,796 (from 28,673 = 90.7% of total cases on Sept 22, 2021 to 26,877 = 82.4% of cases on Sept 24).
I know of no mechanism where case counts can decline, unless there was a data error that needed to be corrected.
“As a trained virologist, who has studied virus-human interactions at the molecular, cellular, and organismal level for many decades, I can think of no biological reason why the Omicron variant would have such a strong disproportionate predilection for infecting people in the ‘Other’ category.“
– Gerry Silverstein, South Burlington
The decrease in percentage (to 82.4%, below the 89.8% of Vermonters who are classified as White) was significant because it detailed that the SARS-CoV-2 virus no longer disproportionately infected people in the White category.
The number of people infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus listed in the “Other” category increased from 789 = 2.7% of cases (September 22) to 3,778 = 11.6% of total cases (September 24).
According to the VDOH dashboard: “Other” Race includes people who identify as two or more races, or a race other than white, Asian, African American or Black, and American Indian or Alaskan Native.
So, over a 2-day period (from September 22-24) 1,796 White people, who had been classified as infected, were no longer listed as infected, and 2989 individuals in the “Other” category were newly infected, an increase of 379%! Such an enormous increase is extraordinarily unlikely.
Deaths in White category on September 22 were 276 (95.5% of total deaths) and on September 24 deaths had increased by 5 to 281, but as a percentage of total deaths they had declined (to 92.4%).
How could that be?
Total COVID deaths on September 22 were 289, while on September 24 total deaths were 304, a difference of 15 deaths. Clearly 5 of those deaths were in the White category, leaving 10 in non-White categories.
The only non-White category where deaths increased was the “Other” category.
On September 22, 4 total deaths were recorded in the “Other” category, while 2 days later, 14 total deaths were listed in the “Other” category, an increase of 250%! Again, that seems extraordinarily unlikely and, as will be detailed below, the death count in the “Other” category declined significantly at a later date.
Data posting continued on a reasonable trajectory from September 24 with the above numbers until October 7-8.
October 7 showed:
White cases: 28,875 (82.7% of total cases) and 299 deaths (91.2% of total deaths)
“Other” cases: 4,051 (11.6% of total cases) and 20 deaths (6.1% of total deaths)
October 8 showed:
White cases: 29,122 (91.1% of total cases) and deaths 302 (95.6% of total deaths)
Other cases: 853 (2.7% of total cases) and deaths 5 (1.6% of total deaths)
So, between October 7 and 8 cases in the White category increased by 247 (reasonable), but as a percentage of total cases they increased from 82.7% to 91.1%.
The 91.1% value is similar to the 90.7% of cases in the White category on September 22; before the dramatic reduction to 82.4% of total cases just 2 days later on September 24.
In addition, cases in the “Other” category declined by 3,198 (a 375% decrease), while deaths in the “Other” category decreased from 20 (6.1% of total) to 5 (1.6% of total). This represents a decrease in deaths of 300%.
Recall that between September 22 and September 24, cases in the “Other” category increased by 2,989 (a 379% increase) and deaths increased by 10 (a 250% increase).
So, the difficult to explain data postings between September 22 and September 24 were significantly revised between October 7 and October 8.
At face value it appears that a data error listing had occurred and was then corrected.
The error in question is very large. It is unclear how an error of this magnitude could fail to have been noticed if, indeed, it was an error.
Is it just coincidence that the correction (from October 7 to October 8) occurred after I had published my article on the Vermont Daily Chronicle detailing concern over the numbers posted on September 22 and September 24, and shared the link to the article with staff at the VDOH?
Fast forward to December 27, 2021 when the Omicron variant had established predominance in Vermont and nationwide.
From Dec 27, 2021 through March 3, 2022, I note the following increase in case numbers on the Vermont COVID Dashboard for the following groups:
White: 38,661 increase in case count over the time interval = increase of 72%
“Other”: 3,294 increase in case count = increase of 207%
Black: 1,063 increase in case count = increase of 77%
Asian: 858 increase in case count = increase of 73%
Deaths increased in the “Other” category by 117% (from 6 to 13) from December 27-March 3 versus a 27.8% increase (from 414 to 529) in the White category.
No increase in deaths were recorded in the Black and Asian categories over the same time interval.
As a trained virologist, who has studied virus-human interactions at the molecular, cellular, and organismal level for many decades, I can think of no biological reason why the Omicron variant would have such a strong disproportionate predilection for infecting people in the “Other” category.
Additional data from March 3rd as compared to the previous day (March 2) showed:
“Other” category: 1.38% increase in cases (66) in the “Other” category = 500% increase from “Other” case count the day before (11).
“Other” category cases on March 3 represent 4.77% of total cases since data was first recorded (March 2020). This is up from 2.7% of total cases on October 8, 2021 (when major revisions were made to Dashboard postings; see above)
White category: 0.09% increase in cases (86) in the White category on March 3 = 19% decrease from the White case count the day before.
Cases in the White category through March 3 are 90.6% of total cases (since data first recorded). This percentage is down from the 92.7% value on December 27, 2021.
Black, Asian, and American Indian-Alaskan Native categories showed very little, if any, change in case numbers.
What about population representation? According to the latest 2020 census data for Vermont:
White alone: 89.8%
Two or More races: 5.8% (there is no “perfect match” between the VDOH category of “Other” and census data categories)
Black or African American (AA) alone: 1.4% (2.4% of COVID cases, 0.545% of COVID deaths)
Asian: 1.8% (2% of COVID cases, 1.1% of COVID deaths)
Commentary and Speculation
In Vermont many people have declared the State of Vermont to be systemically racist, just as many people have declared the USA to be systematically racist.
In Vermont many people have declared that the COVID pandemic has disproportionately harmed members of the BIPOC community.
As White Vermonters represent 89.8% of the Vermont population, the data unequivocally states that the COVID pandemic has not only infected and killed White Vermonters in the greatest absolute numbers, but White Vermonters have also been infected (90.6% on March 3) and killed (95.7% on March 3) in numbers disproportionate to their population representation.
Although Black Vermonters have been infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus at a higher level than their population representation (2.4% versus 1.4%), deaths in the Black population due to COVID have been far less than their population representation (only 3 total deaths in Black Vermonters or 0.545% of total deaths).
In order for those, who say Vermont is a systemically racist State and the COVID pandemic proves it, the number of White Vermonters who have been infected and killed by the virus must fall below their population representation.
Unless something totally unexpected happens, deaths in White Vermonters will likely continue to show disproportionate impact compared to their population representation (currently 95.7% of deaths in White Vermonters versus a population representation of 89.8%).
As death is the single most important assessment parameter of any pandemic (residual disease such as Long COVID is important but death is the ultimate finality), failure to declare unequivocally that White Vermonters have experienced the greatest harm from COVID is not only a monumental falsehood, but exemplifies an unacceptable disrespectful bias (explicit and/or implicit) against people whose skin color is White.
The percentage of total cases involving White Vermonters on March 3 (90.6%) has been declining significantly (from 92.7% on December 27), while cases in the “Other” category have been increasing dramatically (up 207% to 4.77% since December 27, 2021 when the Omicron variant established dominance, compared to a 72-77% increase in the other groups listed on the Dashboard).
As cases in Black, Asian, and American Indian-Alaskan Native have shown very tiny absolute increases, the increase in cases in only one other group could cause the percentage of cases in White Vermonters to fall below their 89.8% population representation. That would be the “Other” category.
What could explain the 207% increase in case counts in the “Other” category (versus 72-77% in the other categories) since December 27, 2021?
It cannot be because the Omicron has a greater affinity for people in the “Other” category. That is biologically implausible.
As stated earlier many people believe to a certainty that Vermont is systemically racist.
Knowing that the data currently show people in the White category have been infected and killed disproportionate to their population representation, is it possible some people have chosen to declare themselves as belonging in the “Other” category when being tested, regardless of whether they fit that category?
I do not believe there is any attempt to verify the accuracy of how a person declares what Category they align with when completing the paperwork for COVID testing.
An alternative possibility, and one of great concern, is when the raw data arrives at VDOH processing center(s), it is not evaluated and uploaded correctly.
This has clearly happened previously (see above for September 22 vs September 24 and October 7 vs October 8).
As the numbers of infections continues to decline in Vermont and nationwide, the “window of time” for showing that White people in Vermont are not disproportionately infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus is closing (unless something truly unusual occurs White people in Vermont will always be disproportionately killed by the virus compared to their population representation).
The dramatic percentage increase (207%) in the “Other” Category of Vermonters (compared to percentage increases in White, Black, and Asian) since December 27, 2021 cannot be explained by any biological mechanism I know of. Add to this enigma the data anomalies detailed for September 22 and September 24, and October 7 and October 8, and an important question arises.
In aggregate have sufficient inexplicable data postings occurred to warrant a call for an independent epidemiological review of the collection and processing of all COVID related data by the VDOH?
Science must never be politicized or manipulated to achieve a social objective. Science involves the search for truth and understanding. No one gets to say I do not like what science is saying, so I will change the data to fit my beliefs.
Abraham Lincoln said: “To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men”. The time for silence is long past.
An independent review is warranted and called for.