Australia's growth factor is going in the right direction. Picture: News Corp
Australia's growth factor is going in the right direction. Picture: News Corp

Only COVID-19 number you need to know

The constant overload of numbers and data being produced and analysed during the global coronavirus pandemic can be as confusing as it is alarming.

Everyday in Australia we receive around-the-clock updates on the number of new confirmed cases as well as the heartbreaking death toll, which currently stands at 54.

But while it is easy to get lost in the noise of COVID-19, there's one figure experts are saying gives a clear and easy explanation at how well we're tracking in getting the crisis under control.

 

This number is called the growth factor and it measures the increase in the number of new cases.

All we need to know is that a growth factor above 1 shows an increase, whereas one which remains between 0 and 1 is a sign of decline. The goal is to get to zero, while being above 1 demonstrates "exponential growth", which we're trying to avoid.

To figure out the growth factor you simply take the number of new cases every day and divide it by the number of new cases from the previous day.

Globally, this number just went below 1, with Worldometers reporting a daily cases growth factor figure of 9.9 for April 8. At its highest on February 12, it hit 6.95.

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The global daily cases growth factor just went below 1, recording 9.9 on April 8. Picture: Worldometers
The global daily cases growth factor just went below 1, recording 9.9 on April 8. Picture: Worldometers

But how is Australia's daily growth factor tracking?

Using reported daily numbers from health.gov.au, Australia's current daily growth factor is 0.88. Our highest recorded was on March 22 when we hit 1.44.

Looking at the chart below, you can see the line is a little lumpy, but Catherine Bennett, the chair of epidemiology at Deakin University, told news.com.au it is "heading in the right direction".

 

 

"The idea in reporting these numbers is to show that the average number of new cases is in decline compared to the previous day's, and that we are heading in the right direction," she said.

"There is a big difference in being below 1 like Australia is now, and above 1 like USA that are above, even though the actual difference in number might appear small.

"That's because 1.1 means you have 10 per cent more cases than yesterday, and if it's the same tomorrow, then 10 per cent more is an even bigger number of new cases in the increase as you are coming off a higher base."

While Australia's growth factor at the moment is healthy and heading downwards, Mary-Louise McLaws, an epidemiologist at UNSW, told news.com.au Australian's should prepare for a spike soon.

This is down to the changes in testing, which until recently were only being conducted on those who were "high risk" - travellers and those exposed to known cases of COVID-19 - but is now much broader in the community.

"We will expect an increase in cases and we mustn't be depressed by this because the authorities should and will go out testing more of the community to then identify more cases," she said.

"As they go out and look for more, they will find more. But we shouldn't be disheartened by this because it's a good thing.

"Now the international travellers aren't using up the resources it is a really good thing. It means we can go out and look for cases that are milder to ensure we put a stop to further spread."

This is a view Prof Bennett echoed, saying the limited testing is a "red herring" when it comes to our case numbers.

"It's important to remember that our testing rules are changing with more kits available and so we will be progressively capturing more of the mild and community based cases," she said.

"So we need to look out for that as a complicating factor over the next few days if the numbers appears to be going up.

"It may simply be that we are counting more of the cases out there, not that the number of cases themselves is going up."

It is not clear how many cases of COVID-19 remain undetected across the country.

Around the globe, you can use the growth factor to see how other countries are tracking when it comes to controlling the coronavirus outbreak.

As Prof Bennett touched on earlier, the US is currently above 1, recording a growth factor of 1.01 on April 8, according to a report by ABC.

The UK's current daily growth factor is higher at 1.05, though its confirmed cases just went past 60,000 while the US are nearing half-a-million.

Continue the conversation @RebekahScanlan | rebekah.scanlan@news.com.au

 

Originally published as Only COVID-19 number you need to know



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