When life and death are on the scales, unpredictability quickly becomes an unwelcome companion. Such is the case in tracking COVID-19, the disease this coronavirus causes: a sudden jump in cases and deaths one week, a drop the next. Nervously following the news—and asking whether to place that online order for a face mask—can leave people bewildered. Even professionals find themselves scratching their heads over the emerging statistics.

“They’re confusing not just to the general public but even to people working in the field,” said Andrew Noymer, an associate professor of public health at the University of California at Irvine.

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FORTUNE: 5 Reasons CoronaVirus Statistics Seem Inconsistent