Interpreting limited data in our undercounted surge

There’s no sugarcoating it: we are in an extremely confusing and frustrating phase of the pandemic. We see the rising (yet undercounted) case numbers, we hear from friends and family members who have recently tested positive. And yet the CDC’s official COVID-19 guidance is still based on a mostly-green map, while local leaders refuse to reinstate mask mandates or other safety measures.

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How one wastewater plant became a leading COVID-19 forecasting source

This week, I had a new story published with FiveThirtyEight and the Documenting COVID-19 project about the data and implementation challenges of wastewater surveillance. As bonus material in today’s COVID-19 Data Dispatch, I wanted to share one of the interviews I did for the story, which provides a good case study of the benefits and challenges of COVID-19 surveillance in wastewater.

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The CDC’s isolation guidance is not based on data

Remember how, in December, the CDC changed its recommendations for people who’d tested positive for COVID-19 to isolating for only five days instead of ten? And a bunch of experts were like, “Wait a second, I’m not sure if that’s sound science?” Well, studies since this guidance was changed have shown that, actually, a lot of people with COVID-19 are still contagious after five days. Yet the CDC has not revised its guidance at all.

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National numbers, May 22

The Omicron BA.2 surge continues in the U.S., with a 19% increase in officially-reported COVID-19 cases in the past week to over 100,000 new cases a day. Of course, the official case numbers severely underestimate true infections, as PCR testing sites close and more people use rapid tests; actual case counts may be five or more times higher.

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National numbers, May 15

New COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the U.S., with an average of 85,000 cases reported nationally each day last week—double the daily average from three weeks ago. This is a significant undercount, of course, as the majority of COVID-19 tests conducted these days are done at home.

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