Sources and updates, March 20

Data sources and data-related updates for this week:

  • APM Research Lab relaunches Color of Coronavirus tracker: From April 2020 to March 2021, the American Public Media (APM) Research Lab compiled state-level data on COVID-19 deaths by race and ethnicity, in order to present a picture of which U.S. populations were most hard-hit by the pandemic. The project relaunched this week, now utilizing CDC mortality statistics instead of compiling data from states. One major finding from the updated data: “Indigenous Americans have the highest crude COVID-19 mortality rates nationwide—about 2.8 times as high as the rate for Asians, who have the lowest crude rates.”
  • CDC might take back hospital data reporting responsibilities from HHS: As longtime readers may remember, back in summer 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) developed a new data system for hospitals to report COVID-19 patient numbers and other related metrics. At the time, the HHS was taking over responsibility for these data from the CDC; this inspired some political posturing and concerns about data quality, though the eventual HHS dataset turned out to be very comprehensive and useful. (This original data switch was the subject of my very first CDD issue, and I followed the HHS data system closely throughout 2020.) Now, Bloomberg reports, the CDC wants to take back hospital data reporting from the HHS. More political posturing and data quality concerns are, it seems, inevitable—this time tied to the CDC’s challenges in modernizing its data systems.
  • Hospitalizations among young children, by race/ethnicity during Omicron surge: Two MMWR studies that caught my attention this week: one examined hospitalization rates among young children, ages 0 to 4, between March 2020 and February 2022. This study found that COVID-19 hospitalization rates among children in this age range were five times higher at the peak of the Omicron surge compared to the Delta surge. The second report examined hospitalizations by race and ethnicity, finding that, during Omicron’s peak, hospitalization rates among Black adults were nearly four times higher than rates among white adults. Both reports clearly demonstrate who is still vulnerable to COVID-19 as the U.S. abandons safety measures.
  • Pfizer and Moderna both seeking EUAs for additional booster shots: POLITICO reported this week that first Pfizer, then Moderna have requested Emergency Use Authorization for fourth doses of their COVID-19 vaccines. Pfizer’s request is specifically for people age 65 and over, while Moderna’s is for all adults. Notably, Pfizer’s request is based on data from Israel suggesting that immunity from an initial booster wanes after several months—just as Pfizer’s initial case for boosters in the fall was also based on Israeli data.
  • Global COVID-related deaths may be three times higher than official records: Throughout the pandemic, researchers have used excess mortality (i.e. the deaths occurring in a given region and time period above what’s expected) to determine the true toll of COVID-19. A new study, published this week in The Lancet, took this approach for 191 countries and territories from January 2020 to December 2021. The researchers estimate that about 18 million people died worldwide due to the pandemic—including not just direct COVID-19 deaths but also others caused by COVID-related disruptions. That’s three times higher than the 6 million COVID-19 deaths that have been officially reported in this time period.

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