Can Biden clean up America’s COVID-19 data?

Shortly after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, the official White House website got a makeover. It now hosts the president’s priorities and COVID-19 plan—including a promise to create a “Nationwide Pandemic Dashboard.” In the coming weeks, I’ll be closely watching to see how the Biden administration follows through on these plans. Will the new administration build on the strengths of existing federal and state data systems, or will it tear down old systems and sow unnecessary confusion?

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We’re not doing enough sequencing to detect B.1.1.7

A new, more transmissible strain of COVID-19 (known as B.1.1.7) has caused quite a stir these past few weeks. It surfaced in the United Kingdom and has been detected in eight states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, New York, Texas, and Pennsylvania. The fact that a mutant strain happened isn’t a surprise, as RNA viruses mutate quite often. But as vaccines roll out, the spread of a new strain is yet another reminder that we’re nowhere near out of the woods yet.

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Support the COVID-19 Data Dispatch

In tandem with this new site, I’m launching a membership program. This program will enable COVID-19 communicators to connect more directly with each other, as well as to provide feedback that will shape what I cover. It’ll also help me cover my own costs, which have grown significantly as I moved platforms.

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COVID-19 data whistleblower Rebekah Jones gets arrested, tests positive

Late Sunday, January 17, COVID-19 data scientist Rebekah Jones turned herself in to Florida Law Enforcement authorities. The charge against her, according to a press release from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) on the 18th, is “one count of offenses against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks and electronic devices”. She allegedly hacked a government communication system and sent an authorized message urging workers to “[s]peak up before another 17,000 are dead.”

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Vaccination is a logistics problem

The federal government is distributing millions of doses each week, and many of those doses are making it into arms. By sheer numbers, we are already on track to meet President Biden’s 100 million vaccinations in 100 days goal. Our current problem is, in fact, a logistics one. It’s a build up of infrastructure failures, with all the weight falling on underfunded local public health departments.

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National numbers, Jan. 24

Two major metrics, new cases and current hospitalizations, are down for the second week in a row. (See the numbers trending down on the COVID Tracking Project chart, above.) The number of new cases reported this week is the lowest it’s been since Thanksgiving. And, while well over 100,000 Americans are in the hospital with COVID-19, we are seeing about 17,000 fewer patients nationwide than we did two weeks ago.

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Trust is key for a successful COVID-19 response

The COVID-19 Data Dispatch largely focuses on U.S. news. This country’s response to the pandemic has been so chaotic and confusing that it is a full-time job just to keep up with major developments. But sometimes, to truly understand COVID-19 in America, we need a global perspective. More specifically: seeing how other nations have succeeded in mounting a robust public health response—with actual support from the public—can show us how we have failed.

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