New CDC mortality data: “Real-time public health surveillance at a highly granular level”

This past Monday, the CDC put out a major data release: mortality data for 2020 and 2021, encompassing the pandemic’s impact on deaths from all causes in the U.S. The new data allow researchers and reporters to investigate excess deaths, a measure of the pandemic’s true toll—comparing the number of deaths that occurred in a particular region, during a particular year, to deaths that would’ve been expected had COVID-19 not occurred. At the same time, the new data allow for investigations into COVID-19 disparities and increased deaths of non-COVID causes during the pandemic.

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Public health data in the US is “incredibly fragmented”: Zoe McLaren on booster shots and more

This week, I had a new story published at the data journalism site FiveThirtyEight. The story explores the U.S.’s failure to comprehensively track breakthrough cases, and how that failure has led officials to look towards data from other countries with better tracking systems as they make decisions about booster shots. In the CDD, I’m sharing one of the interviews I did for that story.

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The short-term future of COVID-19 testing

This week, I had a story on COVID-19 testing published in Slate’s Future Tense vertical. The piece explores how testing will change in the next few months as more Americans become vaccinated and rapid tests become more widely available. In the CDD today, I’m excited to share one of the interviews I conducted for the piece, with Dan Larremore, a statistician at the University of Colorado and long-time advocate for the potential of rapid tests.

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Privacy-first from the start: The backstory behind your exposure notification app

Since last fall, I’ve been fascinated by exposure notification apps. These phone applications use Bluetooth to track people’s close contacts and inform them when a contact has tested positive for COVID-19. As I wrote back in October, though, data on the apps are few and far between, leaving me with a lot of questions about how many people actually have these apps on their phones—and how well they’re working at preventing COVID-19 spread. This week, I put those questions to Jenny Wanger, co-founder of the TCN Coalition and Director of Programs at the Linux Foundation of Public Health.

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How one biostatistics team modeled COVID-19 on campus

When the University of California at San Diego started planning out their campus reopening strategy last spring, a research team at the school enlisted Ravi Goyal to help determine the most crucial mitigation measures. Goyal is a statistician at the policy research organization Mathematica (no, not the software system). I spoke to Goyal this week about the challenges of modeling COVID-19, the patterns he saw at UC San Diego, and how this pandemic may impact the future of infectious disease modeling.

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What makes a successful semester during COVID-19?

In the COVID-19 Data Dispatch this week, I wanted to share some bonus material from my recent Science News story. One of my favorite interviews that I did for this feature was with Dr. Pardis Sabeti, a computational geneticist at the Broad Institute of Harvard University and MIT. The Broad Institute helped over 100 colleges and universities set up COVID-19 testing and student symptom monitoring, most of them in New England. When I talked to Dr. Sabeti, though, she mostly spoke about Colorado Mesa University—a small school in Grand Junction, Colorado that saw it as a moral imperative to bring all of their students back to campus this fall.

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