Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and other political leaders have said repeatedly that, with a gradual reopening of the economy, citizens should act responsibly to help contain the spread of COVID-19.
So as citizens make critical decisions about what might endanger their health and the health of others, what they need most is information. However, making informed decisions is complicated by the fact that accessible state and county data on the coronavirus is incomplete and wildly inconsistent.
In mid-April, the State of Iowa unveiled a new dashboard that officials touted would provide a more “complete snapshot” of the COVID-19 pandemic in Iowa. It included county-specific information on how many people have been tested for the coronavirus and how many have recovered from it — information that previously had been unavailable.
But in early May, the layout and some of the metrics on the site changed. As the Iowa death toll mounts, the state’s “snapshot” no longer breaks down demographic information with each new death, indicating the age range of the victim.
For months, we have known that age and underlying health conditions are a significant factor as to whether victims recover. Yet no information has been forthcoming on whether those dying of the virus had other health issues. In fact, for the past week now, a daily press release providing data updates appears to have been discontinued.
On some fronts, Iowa is doing a better job of reporting information than Illinois or Wisconsin. Iowa’s site does have specific information about long-term-care facilities — something that is sorely lacking in Wisconsin.
Grant County, Wis., has a population half the size of Dubuque County, and yet its death toll from the virus exceeds Dubuque County’s. Of the 69 positive cases in Grant County, nine have died — a far higher percentage than Dubuque’s rate of seven deaths out of 203 positives.
A contributing factor is very likely the outbreak at Orchard Manor in Lancaster.
At least 27 cases of COVID-19 have been reported at the Grant County nursing home, but state health officials for two weeks have declined to disclose whether additional cases have occurred at the facility as the county’s total cases climb. Nor have state officials confirmed whether any of the county deaths are linked to the Orchard Manor outbreak.
County officials also have refused to release updated case figures — and this is a county-owned facility.
Wisconsin does report on the total COVID-19 case count and deaths by census tract. That data reveals that all of the nine deaths in Grant County are within the census tract that includes Orchard Manor.
Meanwhile, in Illinois, the county-by-county breakdown lists only the number of positive cases, not the number of deaths, the number recovered or the number tested.
In an effort to allow states autonomy in dealing with the pandemic, each has been allowed to create its own system of reporting. Yet many of us live in locations that are contiguous to other states, and understanding the data from the region will help sketch a more detailed picture of the state of COVID-19 in the area.
Each state should be required to include basic information for the state as a whole, for each county and for long-term-care facilities that includes the number of: positive cases, people tested, deaths, recovered and currently hospitalized.
Unless citizens are armed with complete and accurate information, it’s difficult to assess what “acting responsibly” looks like.