One data researcher’s journey through South Carolina’s COVID-19 reporting

I invited Philip Nelson to contribute a post this week after reading his Tweets about his ongoing challenges in accessing his state’s hospitalization data. Basically, after Philip publicized a backend data service that enabled users to see daily COVID-19 patient numbers by individual South Carolina hospital, the state restricted this service’s use—essentially making the data impossible for outside researchers to analyze.

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COVID source callout: States go dark on prison case numbers

We’ve noted in recent months that several states have scaled down their COVID-19 reporting: states are providing fewer metrics, updating their dashboards less frequently, or both. According to the UCLA COVID Behind Bars data project, these changes are also hitting state carceral agencies—responsible for reporting COVID-19 cases in prisons and jails—right as Delta causes new outbreaks in these facilities. 

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COVID source callout: Vaccine incentives

In the June 6 issue, one of our featured sources was a page from the federal government’s vaccine.gov site, providing an extensive list of rewards for Americans who got their shots—ranging from free Krispy Kreme donuts to a United Airlines sweepstakes. Now, however, that same page only offers a small list of support options for Americans who may need assistance in making their appointments. These include childcare support and free rides from Uber and Lyft; still valuable information, but a huge change from the previous page.

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COVID Source callout: Federal Bureau of Prisons

For the past year, nonprofit news organization The Marshall Project has tracked COVID-19 cases in prisons, in collaboration with The Associated Press. The tracking effort has primarily focused on compiling numbers from state and federal prison bureaus, through a weekly tally that compares total cases reported by these agencies to their previous totals. This week, though, the Federal Bureau of Prisons started excluding a lot of prisoners from their count, making it impossible for the Marshall Project to compile accurate numbers.

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COVID source callout: CDC race/ethnicity data

In the White House COVID-19 briefing this past Monday, equity task force director Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith showed, for one fleeting minute, a slide on completeness of state-by-state data on vaccinations by race and ethnicity. The slide pointed out that racial/ethnic data was only available for 53% of vaccinations, and most states report these data for fewer than 80% of records.

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COVID source callout: Age brackets

One of the newest states to start reporting race/ethnicity vaccination data is Minnesota. At a glance, the Race/Ethnicity tab of the state’s vaccine data dashboard looks comprehensive: it includes demographic data stratified by age, as well as a bar chart that compares the population that’s been vaccinated to Minnesota’s population overall. But closer examination shows one crucial issue.

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COVID source callout: Iowa

Iowa has taken down a page on its dashboard that used to report test positivity by school district. The page now goes to a 404 error, and there’s no mention of school data elsewhere on the state’s COVID-19 website.

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