On Thursday, President Joe Biden unveiled a major new plan to bring the U.S. out of the pandemic. If you missed the speech, you can read through the plan’s details online.
Key points include vaccination requirements for large employers, federal workers, and federal contractors; booster shots (if the FDA and CDC approve them); and making rapid tests more accessible for the average American. Much of the plan aligns with safety strategies that COVID-19 experts have been recommending for months—or, in the case of rapid testing access, over a year.
But I and other data nerd friends were quick to notice that one major topic is missing: data collection. Numerous reports and investigations have demonstrated how the U.S.’s underfunded state and local public health agencies were completely unprepared to collect and report COVID-19 metrics, hindering our response to the pandemic. (This POLITICO investigation is one recent example of such a story.) Local data collection has gotten even worse during the latest surge, as many states cut back on their COVID-19 reporting and the federal government has failed to comprehensively track breakthrough cases.
As a result, one might expect Biden’s plan to take steps towards improving COVID-19 data collection in the U.S. Perhaps the plan could have provided funding to local public health agencies, tied to a requirement that they report certain COVID-19 metrics on a daily basis. Perhaps it could have included increased tracking for breakthrough cases, or increased genomic sequencing to identify the next variant that inevitably becomes a concern after Delta.
Instead, the plan’s only mention of “data” is a line about how well the vaccines work: “recent data indicates there is only 1 confirmed positive case per 5,000 fully vaccinated Americans per week.”
Without prioritizing data, the Biden administration is failing to prepare the U.S.—both for future phases of this pandemic and for future public health crises.