Sources and updates, January 22

  • New CDC dashboards track respiratory illness hospitalizations: This week, the CDC released two new dashboards that combine COVID-19 data with data on other respiratory illnesses. First, the RESP-NET dashboard summarizes information from population-based hospital surveillance systems in 13 states for COVID-19, the flu, and RSV; it includes overall trends and demographic data. Second, the National Emergency Department Visits dashboard provides data on emergency department visits for COVID-19, the flu, RSV, and all three diseases combined; this dashboard includes data from all 50 states, though not all hospitals are covered.
  • Early results from NIH at-home test self-reporting: Last week, ABC News shared early results from, an online tool run by the National Institutes of Health allowing Americans to self-report their rapid, at-home test results. Between the site’s launch in late November and early January, “24,000 people have reported a test result to the site,” according to ABC. (While the article says “people have reported,” I think this number actually represents the number of test results reported, given that the website doesn’t track when one person submits multiple test results over time.) The majority of results reported are positive and women are more likely to self-report than men, per ABC. It’s unclear how useful these early data may be for any analysis, but I’m glad to see some numbers becoming public.
  • New preprint updates county-level excess death estimates: A new preprint from Boston University demographer Andrew Stokes and colleagues, posted this week on medRxiv, shares updated estimates on excess deaths and COVID-19 deaths by U.S. county. According to the analysis, about 270,000 excess deaths were not officially attributed to COVID-19 during the first two years of the pandemic, representing 24% of all excess deaths during that time. And the analysis reveals regional patterns: for example, in the South and in rural patterns, excess deaths were less likely to be officially attributed to COVID-19. For more context on these data, see MuckRock’s Uncounted project (which is a collaboration with Stokes and his team).
  • Factors contributing to low bivalent booster uptake: Another notable paper from this week: results from a survey of Americans who were previously vaccinated about their reasons for receiving (or not receiving) a bivalent, Omicron-specific booster this fall, conducted by researchers at Duke University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and others. Among about 700 people who didn’t get the booster, their most common reasons were a lack of awareness that the respondent was eligible for this vaccine, a lack of awareness that the bivalent vaccine was widely available, and a perception that the respondent already had sufficient protection against COVID-19. This survey shows how governments at every level have failed to advertise the bivalent boosters, likely to dire results.
  • More wastewater surveillance on airplanes: And one more notable paper: researchers at Bangor University tested wastewater from three international major airports in the U.K., including samples from airplanes and airport terminals. About 93% of the samples from airplanes were positive for SARS-CoV-2, while among the airport terminal samples, 100% at two airports were positive and 85% at the third airport were positive. Similar to the study from Malaysia I shared last week, this paper suggests that there’s a lot of COVID-19 going around on air travel—to put it mildly. The paper also adds more evidence that airplane/airport wastewater can be a useful source for future COVID-19 surveillance.
  • Nursing home infections ran rampant early in the pandemic: A new report from the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General examines how much COVID-19 spread through nursing homes in 2020. The report’s authors used Medicare data from about 15,000 nursing homes nationwide, identifying those with “extremely high infection rates” in spring and fall 2020. In more than 1,300 of these facilities, 75% or more of the Medicare patients had COVID-19 during these surges; the same facilities had way-above-average mortality rates. “These findings make clear that nursing homes in this country were not prepared for the sweeping health emergency that COVID-19 created,” the authors write in the report’s summary.

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