Right now many members of the public are being inundated with data about COVID. From cases to deaths to vaccinations to economic costs across the local, state, and national levels. There are so many numbers that are floating around it can be very confusing what all these numbers mean to the public. With so much data available many find they reach a point when they can no longer absorb any more numbers which can lead to more risky behavior. When the public is unable to filter through the numbers that are given to them they are unable to make good choices.
This highlights the importance of data management at all levels of society. It is important for all organizations sharing data to use a master data management tool to some degree and be able to break down the data they have. Understanding the data around COVID can be a matter of life or death. If the public is able to understand the data available they can better make choices that will keep themselves and those they care about safe. So what are some of the sources of that data and what does that data mean to the public? Let us dig into the COVID data on the local, state, and national levels.
COVID related data starts with the local level of government. Under state’s disease reporting laws, hospitals, healthcare providers, and laboratories must report confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases and deaths to state or local health departments. It is important for local governments to have a clear picture about the effect of COVID in their community. These providers and departments also use this data to find COVID hot spots such as at Maui Community Correctional Center (MCCC) and determine the best next steps in order to contain the virus. Many of the laws around wearing masks, social distancing, and what organizations and businesses may be open is dependent on the local government’s choices.
The states take the data reported by the local governments and make statewide policies. Currently, there have been 26935 cases of COVID-19 identified in Hawaii. Of those cases, 7% have required hospitalization, and 25402 (94%) were residents. The state has taken this data and made state-level vaccination policies including opening up vaccinations to phase 1b where the priorities include frontline essential workers and adults 75 years of age and old. The state has also taken this data to make state-level travel policies including beginning March 26, all people entering the state of Hawaii (residents and visitors) will be subject to a mandatory 10-day quarantine or must have a negative Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT).
There are a large number of organizations that are tracking COVID numbers nationally. For example, some of the major groups include John Hopkins, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the CDC. This is a great example of how complex data management and analysis is since each of the above organizations will report slightly different numbers because each has a different process for finding and confirming cases as well as differences in the timing of reporting and website updates. This highlights why it is so important for the public to have a basic understanding of data and the use of data analysis because otherwise these natural discrepancies can be twisted by others to suggest there are issues in the systems that are reporting instead of logical difference.
In addition, it is important that it is clearly communicated that numbers show variability on a day-by-day basis which is why it can be useful to look at 7-day rolling averages instead. For example in terms of the number of COVID cases that are recorded, there is a typical dip on Sundays and Holidays because fewer people go out to be tested on these days. There are also dips that can be seen as the effect of weather or other events. If someone is under several feet of snow they are less likely to trek out for a COVID test. It is important to understand these trends when trying to make national policy around COVID. Understanding the data leads to national policy choices such as recommending that individuals wear two masks if they can because two masks is more effective than one.