As mayor of New Orleans, I found that governing a city without data was like driving a car without a steering wheel. You just can’t do it. You cannot and should not have a strategy without a way to measure impact accurately. From there, you can set goals and benchmarks from which to operate.
Without clear national guidelines, there has been mass confusion about the accuracy and usefulness of COVID-19-related data since the outset of this pandemic. It took weeks (and months in some cases) for some states and localities to disaggregate demographic data, which clearly showed huge disparities in contraction and death rates by race.
In more recent weeks, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been conflating viral and antibody test numbers to a degree that it may provide states false hope. Testing numbers are critical in measuring our ability to trace and treat COVID-19 patients. Combining two distinct types of tests overstates our ability to test people who are sick. Quite simply, CDC and state data doesn’t line up.
The CDC is not alone in making mistakes. There are widespread reports across the South — including issues in North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Mecklenburg County officials in North Carolina were told they were using their public models incorrectly. Georgia officials have come under fire for appearing to manipulate the state’s dashboard to show a nonexistent decline. And there’s been coverage of a Florida employee being fired after questioning the state’s transparency. Local media, luckily, has been holding officials accountable, which has resulted in major corrections.
Let’s be clear: reporting inaccurate data will cost us more lives. These are not benign errors. Local, state and federal officials are making policy decisions based on published data. Businesses, families and individuals are using the data as well. If we do not have the right information, they cannot make the best decisions. And if we, collectively, do not trust the data, we cannot get this pandemic under control and our economy fully reopened.
We have to get this right.
P.S. – To learn about the importance of disaggregated racial testing data to address existing health disparities, click here.
Founder and President