You might have noticed that Skagit County Public Health is using a new graphic to show local weekly COVID-19 data. If you are actively monitoring our data using the state’s Data Dashboard, you might be wondering why the data we’re putting out doesn’t seem to be matching up with what you’re seeing on your screen. For some background information and some answers to questions you might have, we’ve put together the following Q&A.
What’s going on with the state data dashboard? Why are the numbers not lining up?
There are a few things happening right now that are causing our local numbers and those appearing on the state’s Data Dashboard to not line up exactly. Firstly, it is important to remember that the state Dashboard typically updates Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, meaning numbers on the Dashboard today are actually representative of the data several days ago. Since the Omicron surge, the state systems have experienced a substantial slowdown in processing new cases and as they are caught up, the data on the Dashboard will be updated as well.
Another cause for the discrepancy is that sometimes data on the Data Dashboard contains duplicate information and it takes several days for corrections to be made. That’s why looking at the Epidemiologic Curves tab is the best place to view the level of COVID-19 activity, since these numbers have been verified both by the state and by local health jurisdictions like ours.
We are working with the state to correct the Cumulative Data on the Dashboard, but please expect to see some differences until these corrections can be made. In the meantime, our local epidemiologist is crunching our numbers to ensure that we can provide Skagitonians with the most accurate data possible.
Is the data really reflecting what’s going on when more and more people are using at-home test kits and maybe not reporting positive test results?
Now that at-home test kits are more widely available and are being used in greater numbers by the public, it is safe to assume that some positive test results are not being reported. That said, we know that many people continue to call either the state COVID hotline (1-800-525-0127) or Skagit County Public Health (360-416-1500) to report their positive results.
As we enter this new phase of the pandemic, and as our testing practices evolve, we can still look to key data indicators to determine whether we are trending upward, or downward.
One of the best indicators is our 7-day hospitalization rate. We can look to how our hospitalization rates are trending to determine the severity of a surge or wave. With Omicron, we experienced more new cases per week than at any other time during the pandemic, and as a result, we saw the greatest number of hospitalizations. While the majority of folks experienced milder COVID-19 during the Omicron surge, the number of hospitalizations increased proportional to the new cases.
Another helpful indicator is to look at other parts of the globe that are further along in the Omicron surge. We can look to other countries to see how their waves have played out. While not an exact science, this can help us predict our own timeline here in Washington.
What about the new changes to contact tracing and investigation? Could this impact the data?
Beginning on February 14, the state has changed its system for case investigation and contact tracing (CICT). Instead of reaching out to every person who tests positive for COVID-19, the state will now focus CICT efforts on four key areas:
- Outbreak Investigation
- Case investigations in high-risk settings
- Targeted case investigations among those at risk of more severe illness
- Targeted case investigations among those with unusual illness presentation
The state will continue to receive reports of all electronically received lab results and will upload these positive results into the state reporting system, and encourages those using at-home tests to report positive results using WA Notify.
The fundamental difference now is that individuals who tests positive for COVID-19 will be solely responsible for reaching out to friends, family members, and colleagues who may have been exposed, and to encourage others to get tested and quarantine to reduce further spread. For this reason, there is a likelihood that some positive cases will go unreported and thus, wouldn’t appear in the state’s data reporting.
Where is the best place to go to see daily case information?
As previously stated, the best place to go for accurate data is to look under the Epidemiologic Curve tab on the Data Dashboard. Here, you can see both verified case count data, but you can also view our 7-day and 14-day trends.
At this point in the pandemic, looking at trends is going to be the best way to gauge current risk, and to see where we are heading. After all, looking at trends—instead of daily case counts—helps to tell the full story, whereas daily case counts do not show you how are numbers compare week to week, or month to month.
In an effort to help folks better understand our local data and to highlight key indicators that best represent our current risk status, we are changing the way that we provide our data updates each week. You will notice that we have a new graphic (updated each Wednesday) that highlights the following indicators:
- 14-day case rate
- 7-day hospitalization rate
- Total number of deaths
- Vaccination rates
- CDC Level of Disease Activity
It is our hope that you will find these updates helpful. Of course, if you have questions, you can reach out to Public Health by calling (360) 416-1500 or emailing me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.