Better data to fight the virus


Ohio has placed a huge amount of responsibility for keeping communities safe during this coronavirus pandemic on local authorities, particularly local health departments. And to do that, those local officials must have good, timely data about the virus.

Increasingly, local officials are struggling to find the data they need to quickly address outbreak hotspots, calculate positive-test rates, and provide their communities with information because the coronavirus data provided by state authorities is unreliable.

Among the most critical issues, county health departments often do not receive the total number of coronavirus tests performed in their counties. Without this, it is impossible to calculate the local positivity rate, even if authorities know how many positive tests were recorded. That makes it unreasonably difficult for authorities to determine whether community spread of the virus is on the rise or on the decline. And that makes it harder to halt contagion.

Admittedly, collecting, crunching, and disseminating the state’s coronavirus data is a huge challenge. This data comes from myriad sources who may not be consistently reporting it and the data is complicated. Compiling it and sharing it quickly is tricky.

But particularly since Ohio began its reopening in late spring, with businesses and restaurants reopening and residents beginning once again to travel more frequently, the state has relied on local health authorities to manage coronavirus response. These local agencies must respond quickly when an outbreak emerges. They also are responsible for enforcing many of the statewide virus-related orders, including health precautions in businesses and public mask mandates.

That means getting these health departments the information they need to track the spread of coronavirus locally is critical. There may be no more important work for state health authorities at the moment.

The DeWine administration simply must move swiftly to enact whatever reforms are required to improve the accuracy and reliability of coronavirus data coming from the state to local health departments. Whether that means more number-crunchers on the task, better technology, or a revamped reporting process, the state has to deliver the information local agencies need.

— Toledo Blade; Online: https://bit.ly/2XjpwVx