Monsieur le Président [reposted]

Let us carry out screening campaigns on representative samples of population!

Mr President of the Republic, as you rightly indicated, we are at war and everything must be done to combat the spread of CODIV-19. You had the wisdom to surround yourself with a Scientific Council and an Analysis, Research and Expertise Committee, both competent, and, as you know, applied mathematicians, statisticians have a role to play in this battle. Yes, to predict the evolution of the epidemic, mathematical models are used at different scales. This allows us estimate the number of people infected in the coming weeks and months. We are at war and these predictions are essential to the development of the best control strategy. They inform political decisions. This is especially with the help of these items of information that the confinement of the French population has been decided and renewed.

Mr President we are at war and these predictions must be the most robust possible. The more precise they are, the better the decisions they will guide. Mathematical models include a number of unknown parameters whose values ​​should be set based on expert advice or data. These include the transmission rate, incubation time, contagion time, and, of course, to initialize dynamic mathematical models, the number of covered individuals. To enjoy more reliable predictions, it is necessary to better estimate such crucial quantities. The proportion of healthy carriers appears to be a particularly critical parameter.

Mr President, we are at war and we must assess the proportions of healthy carriers by geographic areas. We do not currently have the means to implement massive screenings, but we can carry out surveys. This means, for a well-defined geographic area, to run biological tests on samples of individuals that are drawn at random and are representative of the total population of the area. Such data would come to supplement those already available and would considerably reduce the uncertainty in model predictions.

Mr. President, we are at war, let us give ourselves the means to fight effectively against this scourge. Thanks to a significant effort, the number of individuals that can be tested daily increases significantly, let’s devote some of these available tests to samples representative. For each individual drawn at random, we will perform a nasal swab, a blood test, let us collect clinical data and other items of information on its follow-up barriers. This would provide important information on the percentage of immunized French people. This data would open the possibility to feed mathematical models wisely, and hence to make informed decisions about the different strategies of deconfinement.

Mr. President, we are at war. This strategy, which could at first be deployed only in the most affected sectors, is, we believe, essential. It is doable: designing the survey and determining a representative sample is not an issue, going to the homes of the people in the sample, towards taking samples and having them fill out a questionnaire is also perfectly achievable if we give ourselves the means to do so. You only have to decide that a few of the available PCR tests and serological tests will be devoted to these statistical studies. In Paris and in the Grand Est, for instance, a mere few thousand tests on a representative population of individuals properly selected could better assess the situation and help in taking informed decisions.

Mr. President, a proposal to this effect has been presented to the Scientific Council and to the Analysis, Research and Expertise Committee that you have set up by a group of mathematicians at École Polytechnique with Professor Josselin Garnier at their head. You will realise by reading this tribune that the statistician that I am does support very strongly. I am in no way disputing the competence of the councils which support you but you have to act quickly and, I repeat, only dedicate a few thousand tests to statistics studies. Emergency is everywhere, assistance to the patients, to people in intensive care, must of course be the priority, but let us attempt to anticipate as well . We do not have the means to massively test the entire population, let us run polls.

Jean-Michel Marin
Professeur à l’Université de Montpellier
Président de la Société Française de Statistique
Directeur de l’Institut Montpelliérain Alexander Grothendieck
Vice-Doyen de la Faculté des Sciences de Montpellier

4 Responses to “Monsieur le Président [reposted]”

  1. Dr. Marin

    I wholeheartedly agree. In Ontario, Canada I submitted such an idea to the official govt authorities last week. I’m hoping dearly that it’s considered.

    Please continue to post on the topic and the progress you’re making.

  2. […] (and of the quarantine) compared with the other years since 2001, without requiring tests or even surveys. (The huge peak in August 2003 was an heat wave that decimated elderly citizens throughout […]

  3. Thanks for posting this important message. It’s as relevant in France as it is in the US where I live. I tried to explain this in business terms for Wired a few weeks ago – see here.

    • Thank you Kaiser!I have been bemused from the start by the ability of most experts to confuse number of positive tests with number of cases, a confusion that is still going on.

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