It is a globally recognized fact among health experts that official COVID-19 data is in a shambles right now. Since the Omicron rush last winter, the number of cases from public health agencies has become less reliable. PCR tests are becoming more and more difficult to access and at-home tests are not usually counted.
The official case numbers now represent the “tip of the iceberg” for actual infection, Dennis Nash, an epidemiologist at City University of New York told me. Although case rates may It seems Low now, the real injuries may be up to 20 times. And even these case numbers are no longer available on a daily basis in many places, such as the CDC and Most state agencies They switched to updating their data once a week instead of every day.
How, then, is anyone supposed to actually track the risk of COVID-19 in their area — especially when an increase in cases is expected in the fall and winter? Using more recent data sources, such as wastewater monitoring and population surveys, experts have already noticed potential signs of an increase in falls: Official case numbers are trending downward across the United States, but Northeast cities like Boston They’re seeing more coronavirus in their wastewater, and The CDC reported that this area is a hot spot For more mutant versions of the Omicron variant. Even if you’re not an expert, you can still get a clearer picture of how COVID-19 is infecting your community in the coming weeks. You will simply need to understand how to interpret these alternative data sources.
The case data problem goes directly to the source. The investment in tracing COVID-19 at the state and local levels is in free fall, says Sam Scarpino, a surveillance expert with the Rockefeller Foundation’s Epidemic Prevention Initiative. “Recently, we’ve been starting to see a lot of countries leaving their reports,” Scarpino told me. Since the Epidemic Prevention Initiative and the Epidemic Tracking Collective began to publish case by case Breach reporting performance history In December 2021, the number of states with a failing grade doubled. Scarpino sees this trend as “a harbinger of what’s to come” as departments continue to shift resources away from COVID-19 reporting.
Hospitalization data doesn’t suffer from the same reporting issues, because the federal government collects information directly from thousands of facilities across the country. Caroline Hugh, an epidemiologist and volunteer at CDC Popular, an organization that provides data and guidance on COVID-19 while advocating for improved safety measures. Hospitalization doesn’t necessarily reflect transmission rates, which is still important if you want to stay safe. Some studies, for example, indicate that COVID may be long now more likely from recovery after injury.
In order to better understand the extent of the spread of the coronavirus, many experts are turning to wastewater monitoring. Samples from our wastewater can provide advanced warning of the further spread of COVID-19 because everyone in the public sewage system contributes data; Biases that impede PCR test results do not apply. As a result, Hugh and colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (People CDC) considered wastewater trends to be more “consistent” than constantly fluctuating case numbers.
When Omicron first started wreaking havoc in December 2021, “wastewater data started to rise very sharply, about two weeks before we would see the same rise” in the case count, Nyusha Ghali, president and co-founder of wastewater monitoring Biobot Inc. Analytics, tell me. Ghaly said Biobot is now working with hundreds of wastewater sampling sites in all 50 states. company National and regional dashboard It integrates data from every site in its network, but for more local data, you may need to go to A separate control panel operated by the CDC or by your state health department. Some states have wastewater monitoring in every county, while others have a few sites. If your location is not represented, Ghali said, “wastewater data from neighboring communities is still highly applicable.” And even if your county has tracking, it may be a good practice to check with neighboring communities. “The outbreak of a neighboring case … could very quickly turn into an increase at the local level,” Ghali explained.
Ghaly recommends monitoring how levels of coronavirus in wastewater have changed over time, rather than focusing on individual data points. Look at ‘directionality’ and ‘volume’: are viral levels increasing or decreasing, and how do these levels compare to previous points in the pandemic? A 10 percent increase when levels are low is less worrisome than a 10 percent increase when the virus is already spreading widely.
Researchers are still working on understanding How wastewater data relate to actual infection, because every society has unique waste patterns. For example, major cities are different from rural areas, and in some places, environmental factors such as rainfall or close farming may interfere with tracking the coronavirus. However, it is generally believed that long-term trend data is a good tool that can help sound the alarm on new highs.
Wastewater data can help you see how much COVID-19 is spreading in a community, and it can Keep track of all locally traded variables, but they can’t tell you who gets sick. To answer the latter question, epidemiologists are turning to what Nash calls “active surveillance”: Instead of relying on COVID-19 test results reported to the public health agency, actively research people and ask if they have recently contracted the disease or been tested. positive.
Nash and his team at the City University of New York have conducted population surveys in New York City and at the national level. the team Latest Survey (Not yet reviewed), which took place from late June to early July, included questions about at-home test results and COVID-like symptoms. From a nationally representative survey of nearly 3,000 people, Nash and his team found that more than 17 percent of U.S. adults had COVID-19 during the two-week period — about 24 times higher than the number of CDC cases at that time.
Studies like this one “pick up people the health system might not count,” Nash told me. His team found that black, Hispanic, and low-income Americans were more likely to contract the disease during the survey period, compared to national estimates. The CDC and the Census Bureau are taking a similar approach with the ongoing process family pulse scan.
Maria Berra, an epidemiologist and volunteer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tells me that these surveys are a “data goldmine,” although they need to be “carefully designed.” By showing the gap between real infections and officially reported cases, surveys like Nash could allow researchers to approximate how widespread COVID-19 really is.
Survey results may be delayed for weeks or months, and are usually published in advance publications or news reports rather than on the health agency’s dashboard. They may also be biased by who chooses the answer or how the questions are phrased. Scarpino suggested a timely option: data collected from mobile sites or social media. The The Delphi Group at Carnegie Mellon University, for example, provides data on how many people Google cold-like symptoms or seek doctor visits related to COVID. Although these trends are not a perfect proxy for case rates, they can be a useful warning that transmission patterns are changing.
Scarpino recommended readers seeking to monitor COVID-19 this fall to “look as local as possible.” This means checking data at the county or zip code level, depending on what’s available to you. Nash suggested checking multiple data sources and trying to “triangulate” them. For example, if the status data says the transmission is down, does the wastewater data say the same? And how does the data match local behavior? If a popular community event or holiday occurred recently, lower case numbers may need to be taken with caution.
“We’re heading into a period where it’s going to be increasingly difficult to know what’s going on with the virus,” Nash told me. Case numbers will continue to be understated, and dashboards may be updated less frequently. Critics on Twitter are turning For Yankee Candle Reviews for signs of mutations. Useful sources still exist, but piecing together disparate data can be cumbersome—after all, data reporting and interpretation should be important to our public health agencies, not the individuals involved.
Rather than accepting the status quo of fragmented data, experts would like to see improved public health systems for COVID-19 and other diseases, such as monkeypox and polio. “If we improve in collecting relevant local infectious disease data and making it available for decision-making, we will live healthier and happier lives,” Scarpino said.
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