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New Government COVID-19 Map May Look Great Because It's Stale

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today shocked COVID-19 watchers by producing a weekly COVIDView tracking report that shows that the COVID-19 outbreak numbers are continuing to be moving in the right direction.

Public health officials in many communities in places like Arizona, Florida and Texas are reporting spikes in the number of new COVID-19 cases, and some are talking about efforts to ease quarantine rules.

But a CDC map that shows what’s happening with the number of COVID-19 and COVID-like cases “out in the community” — in doctors’ offices, urgent care clinics and emergency rooms  —  continues to be all green. That map is supposed to give public health officials an early sign if something terrible is happening. The map seems to be telling public health officials, “Relax.”


  • The CDC’s weekly COVID-19 report is available here.
  • The CDC’s provisional COVID-19 mortality data table is available here.
  • An image of what a Yahoo News reporter believes to be a leaked CDC COVID-19 new-case tracking map is available here.
  • The COVID Tracking Project numbers are available here.
  • The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center numbers are available here.
  • An overview article about the weekly COVID-19 report for the previous week is available here.

Charts included in the COVIDView report also show COVID-19 trends, and related indicators, such as the percentage of all deaths resulting from COVID-19, and conditions that look like COVID-19, calming down.

Meanwhile, Sharon Weinberger, a Yahoo News reporter, has published what she believes to be a leaked CDC COVID-19 new-case map tracking map. The map shows that, by the standards of the map maker, the number of new cases per 100,000 residents was very high in much of the Southeast and Southwest from May 31 through June 15.

Many critics of the U.S. response to COVID-19 have suggested that the apparent conflict between the partly red Yahoo News map and the all-green COVIDView map might be a sign of the CDC manipulating the public numbers.

But the map Yahoo News published does not show what the map maker saw as being high levels of COVID-19 activity; it simply shows that some counties have higher levels of activity than others do.

Similarly, the COVIDView maps simply show that states are green and have “minimal levels” of new-case activity, without defining the term “minimal.”

The CDC staff members who create the COVIDView report emphasize throughout the report that they’re using many incomplete, preliminary sources of data, and that the COVID-19 pandemic itself might be skewing some of the numbers, by changing, for example, how patients use primary care offices and urgent care clinics.

Life and health agents in many states in the South and Southwest have posted tweets about seeing many people gathering, without masks, in restaurants and bars throughout their communities. Agents have speculated that the lack of social distancing will soon lead to a surge in new COVID-19 cases.

Other People’s Numbers

Managers of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Center has supplemented CDC data with other data, and managers of The COVID Tracking Project, who have been skeptical of the CDC data,  have been especially active in trying to get data directly from state and local sources.

Both the Johns Hopkins and the The COVID Tracking Project have shown that new-case accounts move around from day to day, because of factors such as testing sites closing for weekends and holidays.

But the new case counts from those organizations both appear to show that the number of new U.S. cases peaked in April, has been falling gradually, and started to spike around Monday this week.

Public officials use a three-day “moving average,” or an effort to calculate what the daily average of new cases was for the previous three days, to try to smooth out some of the day-to-day fluctuations in new-case counts that are caused by weekends and holidays.

The three-day moving average trend lines appear to show, more clearly, that the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases was falling steadily and has started to increase within the past few days.

The Johns Hopkins and COVID Tracking Project charts both show data for the period after the June 13 cutoff for the CDC’s COVIDView report. The Johns Hopkins and COVID Tracking Project seem to have numbers similar to what the CDC is showing for the week ending June 13.

That suggests that, if anyone is manipulating data, at least some of the manipulation might be happening at the state and local level, rather than at the CDC.

COVID-19 Timing

People may have the virus that causes COVID-19 for two or three weeks, or even longer, before they develop a cough, loss of the sense of taste, or other symptoms, and they may suffer with symptoms for several days before seeing a doctor.

Once they see a doctor, they make get by at home for a week or more before they enter a hospital.

People hospitalized with fatal cases of COVID-19 may linger in a hospital for a month or more before they die.

In communities with severe outbreaks, the number of hospital beds, intensive care unit (ICU) beds and ventilators may put a hard cap on the number of hospital beds, ICU beds or ventilators in use.

But The COVID Tracking Project numbers suggest, that for now, the number of people entering the hospital with confirmed cases of COVID-19 now appears to be varying from about 500 to 1,500 per day, in a fairly random way, down from a typical level of about 3,000 to 5,000 per day in April.

— Read 7 Reasons the U.S. COVID-19 Picture Is So Fuzzyon ThinkAdvisor.

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