COVID-19 pandemic a roller coaster of data points from heartbreaking to hopeful

  • The data produced by the COVID-19 pandemic is about more than numbers since many of those statistics represent a person, like Edy Carrillo of Aurora getting vaccinated on Thursday.

    The data produced by the COVID-19 pandemic is about more than numbers since many of those statistics represent a person, like Edy Carrillo of Aurora getting vaccinated on Thursday. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 4/5/2021 6:28 AM

On March 22 for the first time in weeks, I took a quick look at new COVID-19 case counts.

This was a bit of a fishing expedition as the COVID-19 news du jour was the need for more vaccines. Also, daily cases had plummeted to averages of 1,561 from March 1 to 15, a time-to-exhale trend when compared with the 7,272 new cases a day of December.

 

But experts had warned of a resurgence, so that meant pulling up a spreadsheet and, with help from Excel, calculating that average new cases had spiked by 339 a day or a 22% increase in just a week. Shortly after on March 26, Illinois Department of Public Health officials announced actions to address a possible COVID-19 resurgence, citing more cases and hospitalizations.

That's the kind of data point no one wants to hear. But the numbers also show Illinois is in a far better position than one year ago, and there are multiple metrics to measure that progress. Here's a look at a few:

In March 2020, co-worker Jake Griffin and I began building Excel spreadsheets that now hold 14 months' worth of heartbreaking, frightening and hopeful numbers.

Early in the pandemic, case counts, deaths and hospitalizations were the main data points that indicated spread of COVID-19. The next big thing to watch emerged in April 2020 as the state started reporting on testing for the virus.

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A related metric that surfaced was the COVID-19 positivity rate for tests. It's the number of positive tests divided by the total tests over seven days and is one tool state officials use in determining whether to tighten restrictions -- such as halting indoor dining at restaurants -- or loosen them.

Last year the state was divided into 11 public health regions and given five phases of reopening. And if that wasn't enough, three nuanced tiers of restrictions were introduced.

For example, in November, Regions 7, 8, 9 and 10 were put under Tier 3 mitigations. Translated it means -- in November the suburbs were put under strict restrictions to prevent spread of COVID-19.

In December, a wonderful but complex new metric emerged. Vaccines.

From zero vaccines in early 2020, the state went to three different versions from Pfizer Inc., Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson.

It also meant multiple new data points. How many doses is the federal government delivering? How many shots in arms? How many people are fully vaccinated? Which county or state is getting the most people vaccinated? How many people at nursing homes are getting vaccinated?

The ultimate goal is zero cases, 100% vaccinated, and goodbye to the spreadsheets.

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