In Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota, the shift to weekly reporting was notable during a pandemic in coronavirus dashboards has become a standard for Americans closely monitoring case counts and trends to navigate an epidemic that has claimed more than 600,000.
The state of Nebraska stopped reporting on the virus for two weeks, after Gov. Ricketts declared an end to the official virus emergency. Pete Ricketts declared an official end to the virus emergency. News reporters were forced to file public records requests and go to national websites to find out more about COVID statistics. Two weeks later, the state retracted and created a weekly website that provided basic statistics.
Other governments have taken the opposite approach and published more information. Washington, D.C., added a dashboard of breakthrough cases this week to show how many people contracted the virus after receiving vaccines. Many states are now reporting virus numbers on weekdays only.
Officials in Florida said that it was sensible to change the frequency of virus reporting in June due to the declining number of cases and increasing vaccination rates.
Soon after the outbreak, cases began to rise and Florida was responsible for one-fifth infected with coronavirus. Florida's weekly updates, which are usually done on Friday afternoons, have implications for the country's understanding the current summer surge. There is no COVID stats from the hotspot for six consecutive days.
The number of cases in Florida rose from 23,000 to 45,000, then 73,000 on Friday. This is an increase of over 10,000 daily. Parts of Florida are running out of room in hospitals.
Democrats and others have called on the governor and state officials to take action as cases are rising. Ron DeSantis will resume providing daily updates on the outbreak.
"There was absolutely nothing to stop the daily updates other than an attempt to pretend that there aren't," stated Anna Eskamani (a state representative from the Orlando region), a Democrat.
Infectious disease specialists are concerned by the trend to reduce data reporting. They believe that more information during a pandemic is better. People have come to depend on state virus dashboards for information. This helps them make decisions such as whether they should attend large gatherings or wear masks out in public. Understanding the risk level in the community can affect how people respond to restrictions and get vaccinated.
"We know that sharing data with others is important because the actions taken by businesses, schools, civic leaders, community leaders, and each individual's actions are all affected by what our perception of risk is," stated Dr. Kirsten Bibins-Domingo who heads the University of California, San Francisco department of epidemiology & biostatistics.
Reporting the numbers weekly allows people to see trends and smooth out the day-to-day variations. Experts have always advised that you pay more attention the 7-day rolling average number of new cases, as the numbers can fluctuate widely from one day or the next.
Florida officials claim that they have not restricted the sharing of data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Officials in Nebraska decided not to keep the virus dashboard updated daily because of a steady decline of visitors to the site, which indicated less interest in the numbers. She said that the state could resume providing daily updates if the governor decides it is necessary.
Dack stated that "now that Nebraska has returned to normal, some staff that was dedicated to the dashboard have been able to concentrate on the other important matters."
Although state health departments have been providing regular updates to the public on other diseases, such as flu and West Nile for a long time, they don't have the same political baggage as COVID-19.
A former employee of Florida's health department was fired after suggesting publicly that managers wanted her manipulating data on coronavirus statistics in order to paint a better picture. Rebekah Jones was not accused of any data manipulation, but her comments raised doubts about the reliability and validity of the metrics.
Dr. David Brett Major, an infectious disease specialist, said that national websites like the CDC are a great source of information on current state trends. Weekly updates might be acceptable. Although the World Health Organization uses weekly updates often, he stated that they do so for data management and not political reasons.
He stated that Nebraska's message to end its dashboard indicating that the state emergency was over was troubling. Conditions were now returning to normal.
Brett-Major, University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, stated that "the main problem is that this reflects a lack of interest in pandemic risk mitigation."
Janet Hamilton, executive Director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists said that part of the problem is the fact that public health officials don't have sophisticated data systems, making it more labor-intensive to create daily dashboards. Public health agencies may have the money to operate at a time of high government spending, but they haven’t had the opportunity to upgrade.
Hamilton stated, "It would great if daily reports could be made broadly available, but public healthcare would have to be better funded to do that, and right now that is not the case."
Hamilton stated that even though virus numbers aren’t reported publicly, health officials continue to review the most recent data.
Bibbins,-Domingo stated that the delta variant is "spreading with amazing efficiency" at a time when it is critical for everyone to understand the latest trends.
She stated that even though we know they are readily available to decision-makers on a daily base, it is still of great value to provide the data to the general public.