Nebraska’s dashboard is back… Or is it?

Nebraska’s new, most likely short-lived, Hospital Capacity Dashboard. Screenshot taken on October 10.

Last week, I called out the state of Nebraska for basically demolishing its COVID-19 vaccination data. I wrote that the state’s “Weekly Data Update” report now includes just two metrics: variants of concern and vaccine breakthroughs. This came after the state discontinued its comprehensive COVID-19 dashboard in late June. (You can see screenshots of the old dashboard here.)

While I was correct in writing that Nebraska’s weekly update is now incredibly sparse, I missed that the state has, in fact, brought back its COVID-19 dashboard—kind-of. A New York Times article by Adeel Hassan and Lisa Waananen Jones alerted me to this update.

Instead of resuming updates of the state’s previous dashboard, Nebraska’s state public health agency has now built a new, less comprehensive one, called the Nebraska Hospital Capacity Dashboard. As you might expect from the title, this new dashboard focuses on hospitalization data, such as the share of hospital beds available state-wide and by local public health region.

But this new dashboard also includes some trends data (new cases, tests, and vaccinations by day, etc.) and demographics data. The demographics data are similar to what Nebraska provided on its old dashboard, reporting total cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and vaccinations by race, ethnicity, age, and gender.

So, allow me to correct last week’s post: Nebraska is currently reporting more vaccination data than what the state is posting on its weekly reports page. However, the new dashboard, is short-lived, according to the NYT:

On Sept. 20, after coronavirus hospitalizations surpassed 10 percent of the state’s capacity of staffed hospital beds, [Nebraska Governor Pete] Ricketts announced that county-level case data would once again be made public on a new “hospital capacity” state dashboard.

But he said the data will disappear again if the number drops below 10 percent on a 7-day rolling average. And the state is still not reporting county-level deaths.

Governor Ricketts ordered the new Hospital Capacity dashboard to be developed after public health experts and state legislators pushed for Nebraska to report more COVID-19 data. With limited state-level data and just a few Nebraska counties providing their own pandemic reports, residents were unable to see how the virus was spreading in their communities for all of July and August—when the Delta surge was at its worst.

The new dashboard is a victory for Nebraska’s public health and medical experts. But state residents have very limited access to testing, leaving some experts to think the data on this dashboard may be “vast underestimates,” the NYT reports.

Nebraska is not alone in cutting down on COVID-19 data reporting in recent months. Florida switched from a detailed dashboard and daily updates to pared-down weekly updates in June, and other states have stopped reporting on weekends or made other cuts. While the CDC and HHS continue to update their datasets daily, a lack of detailed data at the state level may heighten the challenge of another virus surge, if we see one this winter.

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