Cataloging the Apocalypse Versus Providing Useful Information: D.C. Is Not Releasing the COVID-19 Data We Need

Regular readers will know that, Mondays, I usually provide a weekly update on the state of COVID-19 in D.C. I can’t do that today because the city didn’t release any ward-level data about total testing numbers yesterday; in fact, until late afternoon, there was nothing other than a press release/email announcing sixteen new cases and no deaths. This is part of a larger pattern where data reliability and timeliness have taken a nose dive the last few weeks.

While this is annoying for data nerds like me, we actually do need this information. Sixteen new cases out of 160 total tests, a ten percent positive rate, would mean we really don’t know what is happening–other than we probably have far more daily new positives than sixteen. Sixteen out of 1,600, a one percent positive rate, is pretty good askhually!, and likely represents a reasonable estimate of the daily new cases.

Consider the seven cases were found in Ward 7. If only 70 people were tested, that’s not good news for Ward 7. But if there were 300 tests, that’s not so bad. Without these data, we can’t really tell.

Back when the citywide daily new positives were twenty per hundred thousand–well past the supposed* phase 2 shutdown–it doesn’t really matter as much. Whether the daily new positives are twenty or more like forty once the percent positive rate is factored in isn’t so important, since, from a policy perspective, COVID-19, like the rent, is too damn high: time to rollback. Essentially, good data just allow us to more accurately catalog the apocalypse.

On the other hand, right now, as we really do need to reassess what our policies should be, we need good, reliable data, and those aren’t being provided. If nothing else, D.C. must release citywide positive test data and total test data, so we can assess what is happening, though, as described above, D.C. should–and was–providing ward-level data too.

Hopefully, this is fixed by the time you’ve read this.

*I write supposed because the city did nothing significant in response for six weeks after that, and so many people died needlessly as a result.

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1 Response to Cataloging the Apocalypse Versus Providing Useful Information: D.C. Is Not Releasing the COVID-19 Data We Need

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