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We’re your reliable local source for COVID-19 data

Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department works to protect your health every day based on science and the latest understanding of COVID-19.

Our epidemiologists study how disease spreads in our community. I am one of those “epis,” as we call ourselves. Before COVID-19, we had 4 full-time and one part-time epis to cover all diseases, environmental health, and all Health Department work. Right now, we all work on COVID-19, and we have added additional epis to meet the needs of the outbreak.

Usually, we gather information, review data, and perform statistical analyses. We also answer questions from the public, Board of Health members, and other stakeholders with research based on our local data.

We study how disease affects our community every day, and COVID-19 has put this work into overdrive. But our data isn’t just numbers. These are people. The disease harms real people who may miss work, have a long recovery, or other challenges. And each death is someone’s husband or wife, mother or father, brother, sister, daughter or son.

Data Dashboard Aug 20

COVID-19 changed our jobs. 

In pre-COVID days, we routinely focused on outbreaks—some of them well-known, such as the measles outbreak in Pierce and surrounding counties in 2019. We had only two cases. Months later, epis evaluated where the disease came from, how it spread, what brought it under control, and we recommended ways to limit future outbreaks.

Outbreaks will happen. Our job is to limit them.

We’re like the defensive coaches in football. We study the opposition—in this case, diseases. And we recommend plays to the head coach, Health Director Dr. Anthony L-T Chen. 

During the pandemic, we work around the clock to understand the data and report them quickly to help inform public health recommendations.

We use our training to analyze disease trends in real time, report data and provide information for public health decision making. But, research on COVID-19 is emerging, so we must constantly evolve our practices and thinking.

COVID-19 is constantly calling audibles, so we adjust our defense at the last minute.

For instance, the Health Department receives information from laboratories across the country, hospitals, and other sources. Our epis take those raw data and turn them into actionable information, including geographical mapping of the disease and the 14 metrics the state requires for safe reopening.

Accurate local data help to understand:

  • Which communities COVID-19 affects the most? American Indian/Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, Black or African American, and Latinx communities experienced disproportionate rates of disease. We stepped up interventions and outreach with these groups because of what the data tell us.
  • What age groups are most affected? This has informed everything from plans like testing for people in congregate care settings to communication strategies to reach 20-39 year-olds, who recently experienced an increase in cases.
  • Where is COVID-19 spreading? Our data dashboard has a map of Pierce County showing the number of cases in each census tract. You can see if COVID-19 is spreading in your neighborhood because of our data work.
  • When can school children safely return to in-classroom learning? We all want our children back in school. The disease rates need to continue downward so we can get there.
  • When might we enter Phase 3? Each day, we update our data dashboard. You can see most of the 14 metrics the state requires for advancement in the Safe Start plan. We will be close to applying when most of the needles on the dashboard are in the green. Currently, the Governor has pressed paused on any county applying to advance to the next Phase.

Open dataset provides challenges.

Because epis usually come in after a disease has run its course, they’re used to working with “closed datasets.”

In a closed dataset, you look at an event that has already occurred and the numbers stay the same. COVID-19 work is happening in the present and has an “open dataset,” which means the numbers increase and decrease as we add or remove test results. Sometimes the results are duplicates.

For example, providers may test someone with COVID-19 multiple times over a series of days or weeks. We only count a patient as positive once. Or, someone tested in Pierce County might live in and have contracted COVID-19 in King County. When we learn this, we remove them from Pierce County’s data.

The open dataset for COVID-19 means we’re constantly updating case counts.

Another challenge of real time reporting is inadequate data systems. The Washington Disease Reporting System and other data systems could not handle the challenges COVID-19 threw at them. The systems record positive cases of diseases, such as measles or pertussis. They did not track the hundreds of thousands of negative test results. If we know the negative data alongside the positive, we can calculate the positivity rate, which tells us how widespread COVID-19 is.

What we can all do to drive down disease rates.

I wish I could say we were in the final quarter in our fight against COVID-19. While we hope it’s on a downward trend, we don’t know for sure.

This disease is widespread across Pierce County, with more than 6,100 people tested positive for COVID-19. And, roughly 140 of our Pierce County neighbors died because of this disease. But recent case numbers show promise that things might be improving.

It will take all of us to defeat COVID-19 in Pierce County. Here’s what you can do to help us drive disease trends lower:

  • Wear a mask when you leave home. No shirt, no shoes, no mask? No service. 
  • Limit your interactions to a small circle of friends and family. 
  • Stay close to home
  • Keep gatherings small and outside if possible. 
  • Fresh air and physical distance help keep you safe. 
  • Wash your hands, cover your cough, and keep up your best hygiene and sanitation. 
  • Get tested if: 
    • You think you were exposed. 
    • You are a member of a heavily affected community—Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, Latinx, Black or African American, American Indian, Alaska Native. 
    • You have been in large gatherings of any sort.
    • You are experiencing symptoms.

To see overall COVID-19 testing numbers for Pierce County, see the testing tabs on the Safe Start dashboard at tpchd.org/covid19cases.

For more information about COVID-19, visit tpchd.org/coronavirus.