I recently had the honor of speaking to Bara Vaida, from the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ), about my work at Stacker, the COVID Tracking Project, and this newsletter. The full interview is up on AHCJ’s site, but I wanted to highlight my answer to Bara’s question, “What would you say are the common mistakes that you see in how COVID-19 data is reported?”:
I think it is not contextualizing data appropriately. You have to explain what the data mean. For example, you can say a state’s positivity rate fell from one week to the next, but it is important to explain the numerator and the denominator ― the number of tests that were completed and how many of those tests were positive. And you have to explain that positivity rate in the context of what is happening in the state. Is the state actually doing more testing, or did it have to shut down testing centers because of a hurricane, causing both the number of tests and the number of positives to go down — this happened in Florida a few weeks ago. And also, don’t forget there are real people behind these numbers. It’s always important to remember that.
I also spoke to education reporter Alexander Russo for his recent column in Phi Delta Kappan. The article provides advice geared towards journalists covering COVID outbreaks in schools, but it’s also a useful primer for teachers, parents, and anyone else closely following school data.