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Does "we speculate that sick inmates from dormitories were identified early and housed in cells" mean "we guess (what already happened was)that sick inmates from dormitories were identified early and housed in cells"?

The finding that dormitory housing was the strongest risk factor for SARS-CoV-2 infection is consistent with an earlier study involving multiple prison and jail systems and suggests that social distancing is more challenging in such settings than in cells that house one or two inmates.4 Dormitory housing may also have been protective with respect to hospitalization, and we speculate that sick inmates from dormitories were identified early and housed in cells before testing and subsequent hospitalization.

Source: New England Journal of Medicine

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The text is badly written. What it seems to be saying is:

Dormitory housing is the greatest risk factor for infection. However, dormitory housing reduced the risk of hospitalization. We suspect but cannot prove that the reason for this counter-intuitive result is that inmates with more severe cases were identified and placed in cells before we began our study.

If it is important for you to determine the intended meaning with certainty, I suggest you write to the authors directly via the contact suggested in the article itself.

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    I mostly agree with your answer. I don't think that the results are necessarily counterintuitive though, as they relate to different things. One is the risk of infection and the other is a factor in hospitalisation. Nov 25 '20 at 14:59
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    @chasly-supportsMonica I did not say that they were contradictory, but surely what one would find more probable is that a population with a higher risk of infection would also have a higher rate of hospitalization. The opposite finding calls out for an explanation, for which the authors provide a plausible hypothesis. The fact that the authors published an unverified hypothesis indicates to me that they themselves found their results to be strange. Of course, my reading may be quite wrong: the authors may be advocating keeping people in dorms because it reduces the rate of hospitalization. Nov 25 '20 at 16:43
  • I didn't use the word "contradictory" I disagreed with the use of "counterintuitive". I have no problem with the rest of what you say. Maybe rookie researchers wouldn't intuit the obvious! Perhaps intuition develops with experience. Nov 25 '20 at 16:51

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