NC ranks high in data transparency – but nonprofit group wants even more numbers

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The state Department of Health and Human Services says it is doing its best to provide timely, accurate COVID-19 data after a nonprofit run by the former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all 50 states publish even more sets of numbers.

Resolve to Save Lives, a nonprofit led by Tom Frieden — who directed the CDC under former President Barack Obama — issued a report this week that called for 15 “essential indicators” that it says states should publish, noting that no state currently reports all of them and saying a lack of leadership at the national level left the states lacking common standards.

North Carolina, which partially meets reporting criteria for eight of those suggested measures but does not report the other seven, nevertheless ranks better than most other states. According to a scoring system developed by the report’s authors, the state ranks in a seven-way tie for eighth nationally with a score of 27 percent.

The measures not reported by DHHS are connected to the efficiency of contact tracing, turnaround times for tests and the percentage of people who wear masks in public.

Specifically, the authors want the percentage of new cases epidemiologically linked to other cases, how long it takes between specimen collection and case isolation, what percent of cases are interviewed by contact tracers within 48 hours and the percent of new cases from quarantined contacts and new infections among health care workers.

The authors point out that “not a single state” reports testing turnaround time and only three of the 50 states report some of the 156 critical pieces of contact-tracing information — with none doing so “in the optimal way needed.” Only Oklahoma reports data related to test timing, breaking down the time it takes to perform a test after symptoms begin.

In response, DHHS spokeswoman Amy Adams Ellis said in a statement to CBS 17 News that the agency has “worked hard to collect and report timely data from the start of this pandemic.”

“Collecting and reporting high quality data takes time, money, and people — all of which are limited as the state responds to an unprecedented pandemic,” she said. “It also requires collaboration across many local, state and federal public and private entities to be able to do this accurately, effectively, and consistently. We continue to work to improve how we capture data and report it and regularly add new data to the dashboard.”

The authors also singled out North Carolina for praise, holding up its map of test positivity by county — the percent of all tests that come back positive — as an example for other states to follow.

Of course, some of those measures are easier to quantify than others — namely, the percent of people wearing masks. The report says states should report that figure “based on direct observation or security camera analysis, by a standard, consistent method” each week.

Benjamin Anderson, an assistant professor of science and global health at Duke University, says such a count would likely resemble those used to tally how many people wear seat belts in cars.

“I think a study would be set up the same way where you have samples across the community where you’d be able to get enough sample size to estimate for the overall community what the adherence is,” Anderson said. “Of course, there’s a number of factors that would have to play a role in the types of people and where you go, but I think it’s possible.”

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