Tracking Covid Cases

Two years ago today, Ohio had its first three confirmed Covid cases.

Two days later, Ohio reported that we now had four cases. No one was saying that we had one new case; the reporting centered around the total. “But how do we know if things are getting better or worse?” I wondered. If we’re only reporting the totals, we don’t know how fast the cases are growing.

So I started a spreadsheet. Every day, the Ohio Department of Health reports the number of confirmed Covid cases at 2:00 PM. They still don’t say how many new cases there are. It’s up to you to know how many there were yesterday and subtract accordingly. So every day, I add that day’s number to the spreadsheet. Today is day 731. Over time, I’ve added columns. It’s helpful to know the number of new cases today, the 7-day average per 100,000 population, and the total percent of the population that’s been infected.

I wanted to know how we’re doing locally as compared to the entire state, so I added another tab for the county. Summit County is not as judicious about reporting their numbers every day, but unlike the state, they do report the number of new infections each day. I started recording those on June 1, 2020.

Ohio Covid confirmed cases. Blue line is Summit County. Red line is the state of Ohio.

Eventually, there were enough cases that they could be reported by zip code without sacrificing the confidentiality of the folks battling the disease. I started recording those numbers for the three zip codes that serve 96% of our students, and weighted the numbers to be proportional to our student population. That shows us how our school community looks.

And, of course, I have the school numbers that show confirmed cases among our students and staff members. They look pretty strange when viewed through the “per 100k population” lens. With fewer than 3,000 students, a single case can have a dramatic effect on that number.

The graphs were extremely valuable. I could see when waves of infection were coming, even before the media was reporting it. I could see the effect of mask mandates at school. I could tell when our county was doing significantly better — or worse — than the state as a whole. I shared those graphs many times through Twitter and email. They made their way into district reports and school board presentations. The data was useful to me because I collected it and organized it in my own custom way.

But today is the last day. I’ve decided that two years is enough.

I think it’s great that Covid is not the crisis it once was. In a lot of ways, we’re moving forward to the new normal of living with this disease. We’re never going back to the pre-pandemic world. But we’re finding ways to not make it the focal point of every conversation, every news report, and every decision we make. So I don’t need to track it every day anymore.

Revere Covid cases. Red is Ohio, Blue is Summit County, Gold is the community where our students live. Black is school cases.

More important than that, though, is that the data isn’t really reliable anymore. Sure. I could say that the average number of cases in Ohio is currently 4.6 per 100k. That’s the best it’s been since July, 2021. But I’m not sure the case numbers are really that low. The Omicron variant has brought a milder strain of Covid than any that we’ve seen before, and immunized people tend to have fewer severe symptoms. Let’s say you have a mild fever, sore throat, and general fatigue. Are you going to go to the doctor? The doctor will tell you to stay home, isolate, monitor your symptoms, and call if you can’t breathe or your fever is too high. That’s just like the flu. You don’t get a flu test when you’re sick. You just take care of yourself. If it gets dangerous, or if it doesn’t get better, then you go to the doctor.

And even if you DO take a test, the availability of at-home test kits means the results don’t get reported. I have several tests at home right now. I might take one if I have symptoms just so I know whether I have it, but I’m certainly not going to call the health department to report the results. I’m not going to do anything differently trying to treat it. Reporting doesn’t help me at all, and it’s really not necessary.

So this data I’m curating — these infection graphs — are probably very inaccurate. The data is technically correct. It’s not disinformation. It’s not a conspiracy to make it look like Covid is over. But it’s probably not telling the whole story. Because there are lots of cases that don’t get tested, and lots of positive tests that don’t get reported, relying on these numbers at this point is probably not a great idea.

If I wanted to keep tracking things, I would need to find a different metric. Maybe hospital admissions or ICU patients would be a better way to go. They would probably give us a more accurate picture of what’s really going on. But I don’t think it’s affecting me now the way it did for most of the past two years. I’m avoiding crowds, especially in enclosed spaces. I’m wearing a mask in many situations. I’m slowly easing back into society. I feel pretty safe. So maybe I don’t need to do this anymore.

The data, if you’re interested, is all here. I never really intended it for public consumption, so it’s not quite as pretty as you might expect. But if it’s any use to you, feel free to use it.