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Everything you need to know about changes to our COVID-19 data reporting.

On March 6 of last year, we reported our first case of COVID-19 in Pierce County. We hosted a news conference and issued a news release to make sure you knew the pandemic had arrived at our doorstep.

The cases increased, and we told you about each. Then, we unfortunately had our first COVID-related death. These too began to add up, and again, we reported them to you.

The virus was new and scary, and you wanted to learn as much as you could. We listened to you and added more data to answer your questions.

Soon, we began reporting seven days a week. In May, we created a webpage for COVID-19 data and it quickly became our most-visited.

We told you about hospitalizations and recovery rates. As data sets grew large enough, we shared more information to show who COVID-19 was affecting. This included data by sex, age range, where people lived and race and ethnicity.

After nearly a year, we are making a few changes to what we report and how often we report it. These changes will make it easier for you to find the most reliable data about the current disease burden on Pierce County. And they’ll provide us with a process our staff can sustain in the months ahead.

New year, new priorities.

We now report nearly 40 metrics. Each requires staff time to collect, analyze and report. As we move to a new stage of the fight, it’s time for a rethink. We need to let go of some of this reporting work to make room for information that’s more relevant now.

Earlier this month, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Healthy Washington—Roadmap to Recovery would replace Safe Start. The plan relies on four metrics to guide our recovery and places us in a region with King and Snohomish counties. You’ll find those regional metrics on the state’s dashboard. We will adjust our own reporting to include all four metrics at the county level:

  • Two-week rate of COVID-19 cases per 100K population.
  • Two-week rate of new COVID-19 hospital admission rates per 100K population.
  • ICU occupancy (total: COVID and non-COVID).
  • Test positivity.

This focus on two-week rates, hospitals and positive tests gives us a better look at how COVID-19 affects our region. To better emphasize the big picture, these metrics will appear at the top of the dashboard.

We’ll also make it easier to track progress on COVID-19 vaccinations administered in Pierce County. While not part of the state’s official metrics, we know this is a critical measure of our county’s Roadmap to Recovery!

We will still report case counts and deaths, but we’ll move them lower on the dashboard. Many of our metrics aligned with the Safe Start program, which the state used to measure a different era of the fight. Some have simply become less useful. And we will simplify others to help with Roadmap to Recovery reporting.

We also refined our hospitalization data to better align with the Roadmap to Recovery and the information you’ve told us you want.

New look, new reporting schedule.

You might’ve noticed the first change recently when we stopped reporting underlying conditions for each COVID death. One person’s underlying condition doesn’t tell you much about the affect of health conditions on COVID deaths. Reporting this information for each individual death can also inadvertently devalue a person’s life and death. We’ll continue to provide cumulative death information when we update demographics.

We’ve elevated the current 14-day case rate per 100,000 in our daily posts to get people focused on this helpful metric. You’ll now see our main dashboard has shifted to focus on this, too.

On Jan. 24, 2020, we activated our Incident Command Structure to prepare for COVID-19 in Pierce County. Tracking data has been an important part of our work.  Our data staff have worked a 7-day a week rotation for a year. We need to take care of our staff’s health and wellness so we can continue to be a reliable workforce for you!

To build in some rest, starting in February, we will no longer update data on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. On Mondays, we’ll report a three-day total. If you want to know how many cases we reported Saturday or Sunday, you’ll find that in our “new cases by day” graph. We’re also changing our update schedule and will display metrics in dashboards, not tables, to cut down on scrolling. You’ll notice these changes starting next week.  Rather than a big update on Wednesday, we’ll update the data throughout the week:

  • Tuesday: Demographics (Feb. 2)
    • Cumulative information on cases and deaths by sex at birth, age range, race/ethnicity. 
    • Percentage of deaths with underlying conditions, hospitalized or related to a care facility.
    • Antigen cases and deaths.
  • Wednesday: Vaccinations administered. (Feb. 3)
  • Wednesday: County-specific Roadmap to Recovery metrics. (Feb. 3)
  • Thursday: Outbreaks by settings like hospitals, businesses, schools and congregate care facilities. (Feb. 4)

An eye on the finish line. 

We don’t know how long we’ll need to fight COVID-19. We do know we’ll need to continue to work together and adapt. Our dashboard updates will highlight our progress on the Roadmap to Recovery—and allow our staff to continue bringing you reliable information. 

Let us know what you think! Your ideas led to many data improvements over the last year, and we expect they’ll lead to many more this year. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and drop us a comment with your thoughts. You can also sign up to subscribe to our Your Reliable Source blog and other communication. 

In the meantime, wear a mask, keep your distance, stay home when you’re sick, and get tested if you think you might have COVID-19. 

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