Trying to understand the spread and severity of COVID-19 would be tough even without the politicized and contrary opinions being flung about.


A good place to start is with actual numbers. The figures that follow will be a bit dated by the time you read them, but they provide useful metrics about where we are, as a state and a country.


Counting cases


As of Aug. 11, Kansas had reported 31,438 cumulative cases, part of more than 5.1 million cases reported across the United States.


The virus’ spread has been uneven in what is a still-unfolding, worldwide pandemic that has hit different places at different times, with different results.


For example, Mississippi, similar to Kansas in size, has more than twice the number of COVID-19 cases.


Within Kansas, the virus’ spread also varies wildly. Some northwestern counties have few or no cases, while counties around Wichita and Kansas City have more than 5,000 cases each.


But small numbers aren’t reason for complacency. In the spring, states such as Arkansas, Arizona, Texas, and Florida thought they had mostly dodged the pandemic. Turned out, they were just late getting hit.


As schools and colleges try to reopen, safety measures will be vital to keep them open, even in places that seem unscathed. Watching Kansans at work and play this summer, the outlook is not promising.


Unless Kansans in large numbers are willing to make some sacrifices to keep the virus from spreading, schools will not be able to sustain in-person classes.


We also need to stop denying science. Those who claim masks don’t work, children don’t get sick, the disease is a hoax or that the United States has so many cases because it does so much testing are wrong. As explained by national health experts and data from states, the nation has so many cases because it has so many sick people.


Disinformation and political tripe don’t buy us anything but more disease.


The death toll


As of Tuesday, Kansas had recorded 393 deaths caused by the coronavirus. Nationwide, the number of deaths surpassed 164,000 early this week.


This week’s numbers show promising declines in new daily cases and daily deaths.


Nationwide, COVID-19 deaths fell from roughly 2,000 a day from their peak in late April to about 1,000 a day in late July. That decline primarily reflected treatments that improved with better knowledge of the disease and better protection of vulnerable populations.


Some claim COVID-19 deaths are being overcounted. Early analyses by researchers show it’s more likely that the United States — and the world — are significantly undercounting COVID deaths.


It’s hard to put the drastic numbers associated with job losses and economic decline into context.


In Kansas, the unemployment picture is not as gloomy as in states that depend on travel and tourism for jobs and revenue. But it’s bad enough. The most recent figures showed a 7.5 percent unemployment rate in Kansas in June, down from 11.9 percent in April, but up from 3.1 percent in June 2019.


Again, however, there are wide disparities across the state. Sedgwick County’s jobless rate was 11.5 percent, while much of rural western Kansas had rates of about 2 percent. Effects of the current recession are likely just as disparate.


What we should understand is that this is far from over, and places that have been unscathed may still get pummeled.


COVID-19 remains a threat, and while there’s no need to be paralyzed by fear, there is reason to proceed with caution.


A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers across Kansas.