As the pandemic subsides in the United States, a growing number of states have started to reduce the frequency with which they update their dashboards to keep track of what is happening with the virus.
These measures are ringing the alarm bells for many public health experts.
“One of the most disturbing trends recently has been for states to make the decision to slow down or reduce their reporting efforts,” says Beth Blauer, who helps manage the Coronavirus Resource Center at Johns Hopkins University, a source main information on the pandemic.
“I think it’s totally appropriate for us to celebrate the progress we’ve made, but we’re still going through a pandemic. We haven’t gotten to the point where we can play for victory,” Blauer said.
At least two dozen states that have stopped updating daily the number of people catching the virus, hospitalized and dying, according to Johns Hopkins. Some have stopped reporting anything on weekends. Others limit themselves to a few times a week. Florida is the latest state to only visit once a week – Oklahoma is another that has reduced its reporting to once a week.
State officials are championing the changes, which they say allow public health workers to focus limited resources where they are most needed, such as improving data quality and scaling up immunizations.
“As our cases tended to go down and our vaccination rates increased, it made more sense for us to switch to weekly reports for certain things,” says Jolianne Stone, an epidemiologist with the Oklahoma Department of Health. “We still have an idea of what’s going on with COVID here in Oklahoma. And I’m very confident in that.”
But Blauer and others fear that the reduction in daily reporting will leave these states in the dark about new outbreaks until it is too late, especially where vaccinations remain very low.
“Without that kind of full, high-fidelity view of information, we’ll end up really lacking in our ability to respond appropriately from a public health perspective,” Blauer said.
For Oklahoma’s Stone, the move makes sense given the limited public health resources in its state. “We used to get as little information as possible and try to report it as quickly as we can, and it just wasn’t as specific as we would like,” Stone said. “It allows our staff to focus on immunization. “
Other state officials are also defending the decision to reduce the reports.
“We don’t think that’s going to change that response at all,” said Dr. Karen Landers, deputy public health officer at the Alabama Department of Public Health, who reduced reporting to three days a week. “We will continue to monitor very closely and respond quickly to the pandemic as we have been doing from the start. “
Maybe it’s time to think about monitoring COVID more like the flu instead of counting every case, argues Dr Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer of the Association of State and Territory Health Officials. “Things are very, very different now than they were six months ago. And we also need to think about how we allocate resources. “
But there are fears that it is too early to make that change, especially as more dangerous variants, such as the Delta variant first spotted in India, are starting to spread more widely in the United States.
“If you turn off the light, you can’t see what’s going on. Or if you only turn on the light once in a while, something nasty might build up and you wouldn’t know it until it is. too late, “says William Hanage, epidemiologist at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
“If there’s one thing that this virus has taught us, it’s that it’s like one of those movies where you think the bad guy is defeated and then they come back and mount one last attack,” Hanage said.
“Even though I think we have this virus pretty much licked, that doesn’t mean we can take our eyes off the ball just yet.”