How Is NHPR Keeping Track Of New Hampshire's COVID-19 Data?
It's been nearly 300 days since New Hampshire reported its first COVID-19 case. Since then, there have been 36,542 cases, 889 hospitalizations and 656 deaths.
At NHPR, we've been keeping track of these numbers to help us, and you, better understand the impact of the pandemic here in New Hampshire.
NHPR's data reporter Casey McDermott has been leading up our COVID tracking efforts, and she's just put the project through a big revamp.
Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with her to learn more.
Rick Ganley: So, Casey, let's back up. Why did you decide to start tracking this data in the first place?
Casey McDermott: Well, to be blunt, state officials weren't doing it, at least at first. For the first few weeks or months, there wasn't really any central place where someone in New Hampshire, or someone who cared about someone who lived in New Hampshire, could go to look at how case counts or other key pieces of data were evolving over time. So in March, when all of this began, the state put out kind of bits and pieces of information and press releases, press conferences, things like that. I started logging that data in a single spreadsheet with the goal of measuring how those different metrics, infections, hospitalizations and tragically, eventually deaths were going up and down over time. But I also thought that we could turn this into a tool for the public. So we created a series of charts tracking the pandemic and put those online for everyone to see.
And I should say, since then, the state has rolled out more robust COVID-19 dashboards. But we've still heard from people that those can be hard to navigate, or they can have trouble finding the certain piece of information that they're looking for. So we kept up with our tracker. I also want to point out that the state still isn't providing some resources. Like they're not providing a central location where they're tracking outbreaks at long term care facilities on a regular basis. They do put out that information, but only in press releases. So we've provided that tracker again to make the information more easily accessible for people.
Rick Ganley: How might people come to the tracker? How might it be helpful to you beyond what the state and other sources are providing?
Casey McDermott: Sure. So I think the real value that we try to bring to it is context and also kind of a big picture look over time. So if you go to the tracker right now, you can see all of the case information in terms of the number of new cases that are reported by state officials every day going back to March. And that's important because it gives you that big picture perspective of looking back. And also seeing on the charts, we have noted when, for example, the state issued a stay at home order, when the state lifted the stay at home order, when the state implemented a mask mandate. And you can see also, for example, that cases have been rising pretty precipitously as officials warned that they would after the Thanksgiving holiday. But you can also see that cases were rising even before that, and I should say, even before the state implemented its recent mask mandate. As we know, that New Hampshire was` one of the last in the region to do.
And that's important because I think it also provides a level of transparency and also allows a level of accountability. When you can look at all of this, when people have this information in front of them, I think that helps give them the tools to be able to better hold their elected officials and other officials accountable for how they're managing this.
Rick Ganley: And it's all there in one place. Casey, it looks like we're also including more charts from from other sources, too.
Casey McDermott: Yeah. So one of the best and most comprehensive sources of COVID data, especially if you're looking for kind of a comparison of how New Hampshire's doing relative to other states, is The COVID Tracking Project at The Atlantic. That's covidtracking.com. They have a 50 state dashboard. They have lots of different charts comparing different state responses. And they really early on were kind of the central repository for data about the pandemic, because the federal government wasn't providing that kind of a resource, at least at first. So they make their charts available for reuse for journalists and other people. So we've included some of those charts on our tracker as well now too.
Rick Ganley: Casey, do you know how they're compiling that data?
Casey McDermott: They have a team of people that are looking over it very carefully and they too do a really good job of providing very, very detailed explanations about what the data does and does not say so that people know the limitations of what the numbers can actually tell us.
Rick Ganley: Yes, so they're transparent about their methodology. What pieces of information is the state not tracking that you wish they were?
Casey McDermott: So I'll preface this by saying that I recognize that everyone, including the state's data and public health professionals, are stretched really thin right now. And as I was saying, the federal government has also been pretty behind in providing consistent standardized data collection about this pandemic. So a lot of the burden has fallen on state and local health departments. And also, obviously, as a journalist, I have an interest in wanting as much information as possible.
I would say it would be a real help to me as a reporter, but also I think to the public, if we had more robust reporting at the state level around clusters and outbreaks, not just at long term care facilities, but in other settings. And if there were more regular updates on those numbers, not just weekly as they do right now. And just to to kind of put that in perspective, as of the last time that I checked the dashboard, and this may be somewhat out of date when you're listening to this, there were about 4,900 cluster associated infections in New Hampshire, but only about 3,500 of those were directly linked to long term care settings. So that tells us that perhaps there are other clusters outside of long term care settings. And we don't really know how many of those cases have been linked, for example, to certain workplaces, non health care settings. That's something that I've seen other places at least try to quantify or at least give kind of big picture numbers around.
And then if you look next door to Vermont, for example, they provide much more robust regular updates on contact tracing data and their contact tracing operation. That's not something that New Hampshire is really doing on a consistent basis right now, and also about the prevalence of different preexisting conditions or specific symptoms that are presented in their COVID cases. So those are just a few examples, certainly not an exhaustive list of the kind of things that would be beneficial. But I should also say if anyone listening is really curious about a particular piece of data, if you have questions about what we're tracking, how we're tracking it, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if we can't find an answer, we'll do our best to get the right information or ask questions of the right officials.