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Haskell's Hot Stove

No clear answer in state's high school sports conundrum

Inner turmoil: Part of me worries about making things worse, other part says 'give it a go'
By Mark Haskell | Sep 08, 2020

Like many, I have been sitting on pins and needles for the better part of the summer, waiting for an answer to the question all of us have had: When will we have high school sports back?

And after sitting on said pins and needles throughout the summer and now into the fall months, I think I speak for all of us when I say: This hurts.

As the Maine Principals’ Association and various state agencies seemingly pass the buck back and forth, I continue to sit and ponder to myself, not how did we get here, but why has the decision taken so long?

Do not get me wrong. As the calendar has turned to September, it is clear the MPA and those various state agencies are now working diligently to try and put this square peg (the fall sports season) into a round hole (the state’s unwavering set of safety guidelines).

But, where was all this diligence and persistence throughout the summer? Why did the MPA wait so long to come to a decision to put fall sports in place? Why were the state and MPA not working together much earlier in the process? And why did the MPA seemingly have the authority to make the call, only for the state to jump in and “big brother” the entire operation?

Especially when most of the 49 states to the west of us — almost all of which have higher exposure rates to the virus than we do — have plans in place, with thousands of fall high school athletic contests already in the books under said plans?

Frustration increases daily as more and more states get their student-athletes back on the fields, while Maine is yards behind the line of scrimmage, constantly calling audibles instead of simply running the play.

Was the state banking on the MPA to cancel the season, and then when they did not, had to step in and intervene? It sure feels that way.

It is hard to say who is solely at fault here as clarity, transparency and strong communication about the issues between all parties has been difficult to ascertain, even as the green leaves on the trees begin to yellow.

That was never more evident than it was Aug. 27 when the MPA’s announcement it would allow high school sports for the fall season — seemingly the final hurdle — was tripped up by the announcement that the recommendation would then be sent to the state for final review.

It is frustrating to compete in a race when the finish line is continuously pushed back while the runners are on the course, is it not?

Now, all that being said, this is obviously a delicate and unprecedented situation many find themselves in. No one wants to be the bad guy that says sports are canceled, and no one wants to have their decision being armchair quarterbacked by the “experts” on social media.

Me? As a thirty-something with three children? I find myself torn on the issue, not just day to day, but hour to hour.

Professionally, I want nothing more than to have high school sports back on the field.

I remember my last high school sports assignment, 131 days ago — or so Alexa tells me — traveling to Turner to cover the Leavitt Duathlon on Feb. 26.

My final competitive high school sports assignment — the Leavitt Duathlon was a race just for fun after the conclusion of the season among high school Nordic skiers — was 138 days and counting ago when I saw the Cony of Augusta boys basketball team bounce Medomak Valley from the Class A North playoffs on Feb. 19 at the Augusta Civic Center.

These events feel like not weeks, not months, but years ago. So much has happened in this country since that time when the most important thing many worried about from town to town was whether or not their school teams won an athletic competition.

Now, while professionally I want those sports back more than anyone, personally, I feel like not having high school sports would decrease the chances of a potential outbreak, keep our families and schools safer and increase the chances our schools will stay open.

But, I feel the numbers are so small in our state, that I want to simply err on the side of “Well, we have to live our lives. We can’t live in a bubble.” I want to say let us at least give it a go, and if any problems pop up, we shut it down immediately and we can say “Well, at least we tried.”

However, the reality of the outbreak at a small wedding in rural Millinocket continues to loom, with nearly 150 people contracting COVID-19 and three deaths being reported.

What if something similar happens at a high school football game in a highly-populated area? In say, Lewiston? Against another school with a large population? Let us say Bangor? And we see firsthand what happens when a small outbreak in a small community that has touched people throughout the state like in Millinocket becomes a statewide catastrophe in larger cities?

Or, maybe nothing happens at all.

Still, no matter what other states are doing, it would be foolish not to admit it is a gamble. And who wants to be championing the wrong side of that scenario?

The narrative is, of course, if you don’t want sports, you don’t care about the student-athletes. And, if you want sports, than you don’t care about the health and welfare of others.

Strangely, the sides are similarly as divisive as the political climate in the country where sides are usually spending their time berating the opposition’s point of view rather than simply promoting its own.

But I digress.

I see the posts from parents on social media, and I honestly do feel their pain. As parents we want every opportunity possible available to them, and look for who to blame when those opportunities are taken away.

But those opportunities need to be presented in a way that does not put others in danger or jeopardize education.

Parents are frustrated, and they should be. We should not be, on Sept. 8, where we are. But facts are facts. No matter what the state decides, sports will be significantly different this fall.

And if football or volleyball — the two sports that seem to be in the most in danger of being canceled — are indeed halted, I hope that we can redirect any negative energy in a positive way.

Maybe your football player always has wanted to try out for golf? This could be their year. Perhaps your volleyball player has the stamina for distance running? Cross country would be available to them.

This year has been one for the record books in many ways, and we are not just talking about high school sports. We will be bouncing our grandchildren on our knees years from now talking about the year 2020.

And, for me at least, I hope when it comes to high school sports, no matter what happens, participants from all sports will be able to at least look their grandchildren in the eye and say, “We gave it a go.”

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Comments (4)
Posted by: Karla Schwarze | Sep 09, 2020 14:41

There are a number of things this essay doesn't take into account.  Early in the piece the author claims that Covid 19 is a less severe infection than the swine flu because he has calculated that the case mortality rate is lower.  There is more to assessing a novel virus than the case fatality rate.  It's a big mistake to consider the effects of this virus as either "fine and dandy" or death", and use only death rates to determine the severity.  Covid 19 is known to have very long recovery periods with months of hospitalization for some patients, and evidence is showing that some people may suffer lasting or permanent effects from it, including children.  Severity is a combination of ooutcomes, death rates, transmission rates, and other factors.

Another consideration missing from the list is the transmission rate.  Asymptomatic carriers can transmit the virus, so they must be counted in some way, even though the author doesn't like them  being called "cases".    If you separate them and call them something else, then the case fatality rate goes up, not down, which doesn't help the author's argument.  And yes, the numbers and the rates change as we do more testing and find out more about Covid 19.  This doesn't make them nonsense, that's how science works.  When someone with the proper background sees a transmission rate or a case fatality rate in March, they understand those numbers may be vastly different than the measurements 4 months later.

Posted by: Jack Lane | Sep 09, 2020 09:49

COVID – why terminology really, really matters

September 4, 2020


COVID – why terminology really, really matters

[And the consequences of getting it horribly wrong]

When is a case not a case?

Since the start of the COVID pandemic I have watched almost everyone get mission critical things wrong. In some ways this is not surprising. Medical terminology is horribly imprecise, and often poorly understood. In calmer times such things are only of interest to research geeks like me. Were they talking about CVD, or CHD?

However, right now, it really, really, matters. Specifically, with regards to the term COVID ‘cases.’

Every day we are informed of a worrying rise in COVID cases in country after country, region after region, city after city. Portugal, France, Leicester, Bolton. Panic, lockdown, quarantine. In France the number of reported cases is now as high as it was as the peak of the epidemic. Over 5,000, on the first of September.

But what does this actually mean? Just to keep to the focus on France for a moment. On March 26th, just before their deaths peaked, there were 3,900 hundred ‘cases’. Fourteen days later, there were 1,400 deaths. So, using a widely accepted figure, which is a delay of around two weeks between diagnoses and death, 36% of cases died.

In stark contrast, on August 16th, there were 3,000 cases. Fourteen days later there were 26 deaths.  Which means that, in March, 36% of ‘cases’ died. In August 0.8% of ‘cases’ died. This, in turn, means that COVID was 45 times as deadly in March, as it was in August?

This seems extremely unlikely. If fact, it is so unlikely that it is, in fact, complete rubbish. What we have is a combination of nonsense figures which, added together, create nonsense squared. Or nonsense to the power ten.

To start with, we have the mangling of the concept of a ‘case’.

Previously, in the world of infectious diseases, it has been accepted that a ‘case’ represents someone with symptoms, usually severe symptoms, usually severe enough to be admitted to hospital. Here, from Wikipedia…. yes, I know, but on this sort of stuff they are a good resource.

‘In epidemiology, a case fatality rate (CFR) — sometimes called case fatality risk or disease lethality — is the proportion of deaths from a certain disease compared to the total number of symptomatic people diagnosed with the disease.’ 1

Note the word symptomatic i.e. someone with symptoms.

Now, however, we stick a swab up someone’s nose, who feels completely well, or very mildly ill. We find that they have some COVID particles lodged up there, and we call them a case of COVID. Sigh, thud!

A symptomless, or even mildly symptomatic positive swab is not a case. Never, in recorded history, has this been true. Now, however, we have an almost unquestioned acceptance that a positive swab represents a case of COVID. This is then parroted on all the news channels as if it were gospel.

I note that, at last, some people are beginning to question how it can be that, whilst cases are going up and up, deaths are going down, and down.

This is even the case in Sweden, which seems to be the final last bastion of people with functioning brains. However, even they seem surprised by this dichotomy. In the first two weeks of August they had 4,152 positive swabs. Yet, in the last two weeks of August, they had a mere 14 deaths (one a day, on average).

That represents one death for every 300 positive swabs or, as the mainstream media insists on calling them, positive ‘cases’. Which, currently, represent a case fatality rate of 0.33%. Just to compare that with something similar, the case fatality rate of swine flu (HIN1), which was 0.5%. 2

Thus, lo and behold, COVID is a less severe infection than the swine flu – the pandemic that never was. That’s what these figures appear to tell us. They tell us almost exactly the same in France where they ‘appear’ to have a current case fatality rate of 0.4%.

On the other hand, if you look at the figures from around the world, they are very different. As I write this there have been, according to the WHO, 25 million cases and 850,000 deaths. That is a case fatality rate of more than 3%. Ten times as high.

Why are these figures so all over the place? It is because we are using horribly inaccurate terminology. We are comparing apples with pomegranates to tell us how many bananas we have. Our experts are, essentially, talking gibberish, and the mainstream media is lapping it up. They are defining asymptomatic swabs as cases, and no-one is calling them out on it. Why?

Because… because they are frightened of looking stupid? Primarily, I believe, because they also have no idea what a case might actually be So, it all sounds quite reasonable to them.

The good news

However, moving on from that nonsense, there is some extremely good news buried in here. Which I am going to try and explain. It goes as follows.

At the start of the epidemic, the only people being tested were those who were being admitted to hospital, who were seriously ill. Many of them died. Which is why, in France, there was this very sharp, initial case fatality rate of 35%. In the UK the initial case fatality rate was, I think 14%. Last time I looked at the UK figures, the case fatality was 5%, and falling fast.

This fall has occurred, and will occur everywhere in the World, because as you increase your testing, you pick up more and more people with less severe symptoms. People who are far less likely to die. The more you test, the more the case fatality rate falls.

It falls even more dramatically when you start to test people who have no symptoms at all. In fact, as you broaden your testing net, something else very important happens. You gradually move from looking at the case fatality rate to the infection fatality rate.

The infection fatality rate is the measure of how many people who are infected [even those without symptoms, or very mild symptoms] who then die. This is the critical figure to know because it gives you an accurate assessment of the total number of deaths you are likely to see.

IFR x population of a country x % of population infected = total number of deaths (total mortality)

So, where have we got to. Well, although the case fatality rate in the UK still currently stands at 5%, because it is dragged up by the 14% rate we had at the start. If we look at the more recent figures things have changed very dramatically.

In the first two weeks of August there were 13,996 positive swabs in the UK. In the second two weeks of August there were 129 deaths. If you consider every positive swab to be a case, this represents a casefatality rate of 0.9%. Around one fifteenth of that seen at the start.

I think you can clearly see a direction of travel here.

  • At the start on the pandemic we had a, brief, 35% fatality rate in France
  • It was 14% in the UK at the start
  • It now sits at 5% in the UK – over the whole pandemic
  • In August, in the UK, it was down to 0.9%
  • It is currently 0.47% in Germany
  • It is currently 0.4% in France
  • It is currently 0.33% in Sweden

It is falling, falling, everywhere. Where does it end up, this hybrid case/infection fatality rate? Remember, we are still only testing a fraction of the population, so we are missing the majority of people who have been infected, mainly those who do not have symptoms. Which means that these rates must fall further, as they always do in any pandemic.

To quote the Centre for Evidence Base Medicine on the matter:

‘In Swine flu, the IFR (infection fatality rate) ended up as 0.02%, fivefold less than the lowest estimate during the outbreak (the lowest estimate was 0.1% in the 1st ten weeks of the outbreak).’ 3

The best place to estimate where we may finally end up with COVID, is with the country that has tested the most people, per head of population. This is Iceland. To quote the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine once more:

‘In Iceland, where the most testing per capita has occurred, the IFR lies somewhere between 0.03% and 0.28%.’ 3

Sitting in the middle of 0.03% and 0.28% is 0.16%. As you can see, Iceland, having tested more people than anywhere else, has the lowest IFR of all. This is not a coincidence. This is an inevitable result of testing more people.

I am going to make a prediction that, in the end, we will end up with an IFR of somewhere around 0.1%. Which is about the same as severe flu pandemics we have had in the past. Remember that figure. It is one in a thousand.

It may surprise you to know that I am not the only person to have made this exact same prediction. On the 28th February, yes that far back, the New England Journal of Medicine published a report by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD (A.S.F., H.C.L.); and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta. 4

In this paper ‘Covid-19 — Navigating the Uncharted’ they stated the following:

‘On the basis of a case definition requiring a diagnosis of pneumonia, the currently reported case fatality rate is approximately 2%. In another article in the Journal, Guan et al. report mortality of 1.4% among 1099 patients with laboratory-confirmed Covid-19; these patients had a wide spectrum of disease severity. If one assumes that the number of asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic cases is several times as high as the number of reported cases, the case fatality rate (my underline) may be considerably less than 1%. This suggests that the overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza.’

case fatality rate considerably less than 1%. Their words, not mine. As they also added, ‘the overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza.’

At this point, you may well be asking. Why the hell did we lockdown if COVID was believed to be no more serious than influenza? Right from the start by the most influential infectious disease organisations in the World.

It is because of the mad mathematical modellers. The academic epidemiologists. Neil Ferguson, and others of his ilk. When they were guessing (sorry estimating, sorry modelling) the impact of COVID they used a figure of approximately one per cent as the infection fatality rate. Not the case fatality rate. In so doing, they overestimated the likely impact of COVID by, at the very least, ten-fold.

How could this possibly have happened?

When they put their carefully constructed model together on the 16th of March, if they had been reading the research, they must have been aware that they were looking at a maximum case fatality rate of just over 1% in China, right at the start, where the figures are always at their highest.

Which means that, unless COVID was going to turn out nearly 100% fatal, we could never get anywhere near 1%, for the infection fatality rate. Even Ebola only kills 50%.

But they went with it, they went with 1%. Actually, Imperial College reduced it slightly to 0.9%, for reasons that are opaque.

From this, all else flowed.

If the INFECTION fatality rate truly were 0.9%, and 80% of the population of the UK became infected, there would have been/could have been, around 500,000 deaths.

0.9% x 80% x 67million = 482,000


However, if the case fatality rate is around 1%, then the infection fatality rate will be about one tenth of this, maybe less. So, we would see around 50,000 deaths, about the same as was seen in previous bad flu pandemics.


What Imperial College London did was to use a model that overestimated the infection fatality rate by a factor of ten.

We now know, as the IFR rates of various countries falls and falls, that the Imperial College estimated IFR was completely wrong. The UK, for example, has seen 42,000 deaths so far, which is 0.074% of population. The US has seen about 200,000 deaths 0.053%. Sweden, which did not lockdown down, has seen about 6,000 deaths, which is an infection fatality rate of 0.06%. All three countries are opening up and opening up. Whilst the ‘cases’ are rising and rising, the deaths continue to fall. They are, to all intents and purposes, flatlining.

In Iceland it is around 0.16% and falling. In other words…

Stop panicking – it’s over

Whilst everyone is panicking about the ever-increasing number of cases, we should be celebrating them. They are demonstrating, very clearly, that COVID is far, far, less deadly then was feared. The Infection Fatality Rate is most likely going to end up around 0.1%, not 1%.

So yes, it does seem that ‘the overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza.’

Wise words, wise words indeed. Words that were written by one Anthony S Fauci on the 28th of February 2020. If you haven’t heard of him, look him up.

Critically though, eleven days after this, he rather blotted his copybook, because he went on to say this “The flu has a mortality rate of 0.1 percent. This (COVID) has a mortality rate of 10 times that. That’s the reason I want to emphasize we have to stay ahead of the game in preventing this.” 5

The mortality rate Dr Fauci? Could it possibly be that he failed to understand that there is no such thing as a mortality rate? Did he mean the case fatality rate, or the infection fatality rate? If he meant the Infection mortality rate of influenza, he was pretty much bang on. If he meant the case fatality rate, he was wrong by a factor of ten.

The reality is that, no matter what Fauci went on to say, severe influenza has a case fatality rate of 1%, and so does COVID. They also have approximately the same infection fatality fate of 0.1%.

It seems that Dr Fauci just got mixed up with the terminology. Because in his Journal article eleven days earlier, he did state… ‘This suggests that the overall clinical consequences of Covid-19 may ultimately be more akin to those of a severe seasonal influenza… [and here is the kicker at the end] (which has a case fatality rate of approximately 0.1%).

You see, he did say the case fatality rate of influenza was approximately 0.1%. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong… wrong.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. With influenza, Dr Fauci, the CDC, his co-authors, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Institutes of Health and the New England Journal of Medicine got case fatality rate and infection fatality rate mixed up with influenza. Easy mistake to make. Could have done it myself. But didn’t.

You want to know where Imperial College London really got their 1% infection fatality rate figure from? It seems clear that they got it from Anthony S Fauci and the New England Journal of Medicine. The highest impact journal in the world – which should have the highest impact proof-readers in the world. But clearly does not.

Imperial College then used this wrong NEJM influenza case fatality rate 0.1%. It seems that they then compared this 0.1% figure to the reported COVID case fatality rate, estimated to be 1% and multiplied the impact of COVID by ten – as you would. As you probably should.

So, we got Lockdown. The US used the Fauci figure and got locked down. The world used that figure and got locked down.

That figure just happens to be ten times too high.

I know it is going to be virtually impossible to walk the world back from having made such a ridiculous, stupid, mistake. There are so many reputations at stake. The entire egg production of the world will be required to supply enough yolk that will be required to cover sufficient faces.

Of course, it will be denied, absolutely, vehemently, angrily, that anyone got anything wrong. It will be denied that a simple error, a mix up between case fatality and infection fatality led to this. It will even more forcefully stated that COVID remains a deadly killer disease and that all Governments around the world have done exactly the right thing. The actions were right, the models were correct. We all did the RIGHT thing. Only those who are stupid, or incompetent cannot see it.

When wrong, shout louder, get angry, double-down, attack your critics in any way possible. Accuse them of being anti-vaxx, or something of the sort. Dig for the dirt. ‘How to succeed in politics 101, page one, paragraph one.’

However, just have a look, at the figures. Tell me where they are wrong – if you can. The truth is that this particular Emperor has no clothes on and is, currently, standing bollock naked, right in front of you. Hard to believe, but true.

I would like to thank Ronald B Brown for pointing out this catastrophic error, in his article ‘Public health lessons learned from biases in coronavirus mortality overestimation. 6

I had not spotted it. He did. All credit is his. I am simply drawing your attention to what has simply been – probably the biggest single mistake that has ever been made in the history of the world.







Posted by: Gayle Murphy | Sep 08, 2020 20:43

More important is the fact that a soccer field is 64,000 square feet in size. That’s 640 square feet of OUTDOOR space for each of the 100 people in Queen Mills guidance. And of course that does not include the additional square footage of the spectator area outside of the actual playing surface. All of which just points out how absurd her one size fits all policies are to begin with.


John Murphy

Posted by: Gerald A Weinand | Sep 08, 2020 15:13

Important to note that any outdoor gathering is limited to 100 persons. This includes all school athletic events. Consider a high school soccer match: with JV squads, each team can number 25 or more students. Add coaches, referees, trainers, and other folks that help run the game and there may be 70 or more participants, leaving just 30 spots for spectators. Who is going to monitor the gate? Who is going to tell the 101st person they cannot enter, despite that they have driven 40 miles or more to watch their child play?

Project this forward to winter sports.

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