The CDC has been publishing daily new case counts since early 2020. Two years later, daily counts are still shaping health policy to manipulate human behavior.
The daily case count on the CDC website is populated by positive tests that are reported to local and state health authorities. While the case counts shown are high, the true number is even higher because of testing shortages, asymptomatic infections and the high level of unreported at-home rapid tests being performed.
With omicron, daily cases from the highly transmissible variant are surpassing all previous waves creating a visual that may give a more ominous outlook that doesn’t parallel reality.
Hospitalizations and deaths are reported in tandem but get much less emphasis. Without knowing the true number of positive cases, the hospitalization rates reported do not reflect the true risk of a severe outcome.
The rate of severe COVID-19 is exponentially lower with omicron than prior waves despite many still being hospitalized. The sheer number of positive cases have led to many being hospitalized however the rate at which people are getting very sick from this variant is less.
The milder variant with combination hybrid immunity from vaccines and prior infections as well as updated treatment protocols have all contributed to the lower severity rates.
For now, the CDC continues to recommend local and state health officials publish daily new COVID case counts despite their inaccuracies. In step, local and state COVID restrictions still largely depend on those numbers including school closures, and mask requirements.
Given the low accuracy of the daily case counts, such information should only be relied upon as a broad measure of the direction of transmission.
Telling Americans daily counts has little utility without giving them an estimate on how many will have a severe outcome. Or in other words, what is the real benefit of some of the policies being implemented.
An endemic SARS-CoV-2 will result in recurring “flu & COVID” seasons. While COVID is unlikely to ever become as mild as the common cold for the general population, it will approach the reduced severity of the flu with time. COVID is likely already approaching flu levels but the data reported is less than transparent and based on underreported case counts and over reported hospitalizations and deaths.
While there is no comprehensive way to know how many rapid tests are performed every day, the more readily available they become, fewer cases will be included in the national daily case count record.
A few states have already started lessening their daily COVID case reporting. As omicron cases trend down, it is likely more states will follow.
The CDC has consistently lagged behind in their ability to provide meaningful data in real time. Daily case counts are now becoming a less reliable indicator of disease prevalence and meaningless outside of public health epidemiologists studying trends.
Moving forward, reporting the true number of people hospitalized from COVID will be more consequential to monitor severity of illness and its impact on the health care system.
Some states are already beginning to change their hospitalization reporting on account of COVID related hospitalizations having been flagrantly overestimated.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul recently insisted hospitals begin specifying whether patients were as smitten because of COVID-19 or whether they were there for an unrelated reason and incidentally tested positive for the virus.
New York’s findings of upward of 50% of hospitalizations being wrongly counted mirrors other state and countries findings when taking a deeper dive into the true hospitalization rates.
Americans need unerring information to make decisions but are being kept in a perpetual state of panic with inaccurate information.
The White House is perpetuating much of this. It was at their insistence everyone begin rapid testing to gather before the holidays which led to misuse of tests by asymptomatic vaccinated individuals and a severe testing shortage.
Now, the White House is making available millions of n95 masks which without being properly fit tested will be incorrectly worn by many.
Two years into the pandemic the message from the WH should be calm, collected and about moving forward. Instead, it is chaos, with more strict masking and testing recommendations than ever.
As the United States continues into the new normal with “Flu & COVID ” seasons, health authorities should scale back their case count updates from daily to weekly as they do with the flu. When cases further trend down, monthly updates would allow them to focus on other health emergencies that require attention such as drug overdoses and mental health crises.