States Scale Back COVID Reporting Just As Cases Surge
The trend of reducing data reporting has alarmed infectious disease specialists who believe that more information is better during a pandemic.
Several states scaled back their reporting on the coronavirus this month just as cases in the nation tripled. The delta variant of the virus is spreading quickly among the unvaccinated in some states.
The shift to weekly instead of daily reporting in Florida, Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota was accompanied by less detail about the virus in Florida and Nebraska. Some officials have characterized the move as part of a return to normal. However, the average number of new virus cases nationwide went from 11,500 on June 20 to nearly 38,000 this week.
When Florida changed the frequency of its reporting this month, officials said it made sense given the decreasing number of cases and increasing number of people being vaccinated. Cases started soaring soon after, and Florida last week made up up one-fifth of the country’s new infections.
In Florida’s last two weekly reports, the number of new cases increased from 23,000 to 45,000 and then 73,000 this past Friday, an average of more than 10,000 day. Democrats and other critics have urged state officials and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to resume daily updates.
In Nebraska, the state stopped reporting on the virus altogether for two weeks after Gov. Pete Ricketts declared an end to the official virus emergency, forcing reporters to file public records requests or turn to national websites that track state data to learn about COVID statistics. Nebraska officials backtracked two weeks later and posted a weekly site that provides some basic numbers.
Public health communication expert Joseph Cappella says the spin that these reporting changes are part of a return to normalcy doesn’t fit with recent case numbers. State coronavirus dashboards have become a staple for closely tracking case counts and trends to navigate a crisis that has killed more than 600,000 Americans.
However, reporting the numbers weekly still allows people to see the overall trends while smoothing day-to-day variations from the way cases are reported and not the actual number of new cases. And experts have long advised that it makes sense to pay more attention to the seven-day rolling average because the numbers can vary from one day to the next.
Also, maintaining daily updates requires significant resources for states.