As usual, I’ll add my disclaimer that any anger I have isn’t directed towards the rank-and-file DC Health employees. Last week, D.C. announced it’s moving to weekly reporting of COVID information. That doesn’t bother me too much, but what is a problem is that the information D.C. will report will not provide enough information for residents to determine for themselves–and since COVID prevention has been ‘devolved’ to individuals, we have to figure this out ourselves–what the prevalence of COVID is.
Looking at the new site, there are four things it reports:
- COVID-19 weekly case rate (per 100,000 people).
- New weekly hospital admissions due to COVID-19.
- Percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases who were hospitalized due to COVID-19.
- Percent staffed beds occupied by patients with COVID-19 in D.C.
Let’s look at the last three indicators first. New weekly hospital admissions due to COVID-19 tells use how many people were admitted to the hospital because they had COVID. This is not the percentage of admitted patients who happen to have COVID. That would be a reasonable proxy of community prevalence, but admits due to COVID-19 doesn’t.
Percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases who were hospitalized due to COVID-19. This is largely a function of who is getting sick. When the virus is ripping through elderly or unvaccinated populations, this number will be high. If it is attacking mostly vaccinated, younger populations, this will be low. As with the previous indicator, this tells you nothing about prevalence.
Percent staffed beds occupied by patients with COVID-19 in D.C. At first glance, this might sound like the percentage of asymptomatic patients admitted with COVID, but it is very ugly. Patients with severe COVID will remain in the hospital for a long time, while patients who happen to have COVID but could be discharged (e.g., post-pregnancy women lacking severe symptoms, or someone with a broken leg and a mild case of COVID) will stay for short periods. Like the previous two indicators, this is important for hospitals to know, but it doesn’t help you answer questions about personal risk.
COVID-19 weekly case rate per 100,000 people is good. After all, I reported that for nearly two years on the Twitterz! But D.C. is not reporting the percent positive rate, so we lack context for decreases or increases in this number. There is a huge difference between five new daily cases/100,000 with a one percent positive rate and a ten percent positive rate (the latter indicates massive undertesting).
What all of this means is that ordinary people, including the Mad Biologist, are flying blind. We don’t really know what the prevalence of COVID is, which is what matters: we (some of us, anyway) want to know the odds we’ll encounter infected people.
We might be able to glean something from the school data, though it’s unclear what will be reported.
We really are on our own, with no guidance. Still very angry about this.