OUR VIEW:The numbers don’t tell all – but they should

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Throughout the course of the coronavirus pandemic, we have gotten a well-formed impression of the way the Mississippi State Department of Health has handled reporting of data.  

While it’s clear that this is an unprecedented event for all, including MSDH, and they are likely doing the best they can, the reporting of data in terms of timeliness and depth is lacking.  

For example, in the beginning, we were told to expect updated numbers by 10 a.m. every day. That was true for maybe a week; now, the website is updated by 1 or 2 p.m. if we’re lucky, and often with incomplete data (omitting long-term care center numbers, or updating some statistics and not others).  

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What is perhaps more grievous than the often-incomplete data is the lack of depth in analysis of case numbers.  

Yes, there has been a significant rise in case numbers, with multiple days reporting over 400 coronavirus cases statewide. However, these numbers are not going up because of rampant spread as much as it is better access to testing. The University of Mississippi Medical Center has done a fantastic job partnering with MSDH to provide drive-thru testing sites across the state, as have other private entities.  

It only makes sense: the more tests there are, the higher positive numbers will be.  

Reporting only these high total case numbers is not sufficient, because it provides no indication of how municipalities are controlling the spread of coronavirus. As reporters, we’re forced to rely on city and county officials for an estimate of active cases – something we’re thankful they provide, but something that could also be reported at the state level. 

Looking at the MSDH website, one will see 101 total cases of coronavirus in Lafayette County since March 19; we’re now well past that date. Reporting only the total number without further explanation is, in a sense, irresponsible and fear-mongering. One hundred-one Lafayette County residents do not currently have COVID-19; the reality, based on reports from our local officials, is closer to 20 active cases.   

We are more than 90 days into the pandemic; of course there is a high total number. What is missing, however, is a breakdown of active cases, of recoveries and hospitalizations.  

It does more harm than good when the state presents total COVID-19 numbers and does not explain further. 

The numbers do not tell us everything we need to know, but they could – and should.