Harvard Global Health Institute/Microsoft AI/Screenshot by NPR
How severe is the spread of COVID-19 in your community? If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Though state and local dashboards provide lots of numbers, from case counts to deaths, it’s often unclear how to interpret them — and hard to compare them to other places.
“There hasn’t been a unified, national approach to communicating risk, says Danielle Allen, a professor and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. “That’s made it harder for people,” she says.
Allen, along with researchers at the Harvard Global Health Institute, is leading a collaboration of top scientists at institutions around the country who have joined forces to create a unified set of metrics, including a shared definition of risk levels — and tools for communities to fight the coronavirus.
The collaboration launched these tools Wednesday, including a new, online risk-assessment map that allows people to check the state or the county where they live and see a COVID-19 risk rating of green, yellow, orange or red. The risk levels are based upon the number of new daily cases per 100,000 people.
A community that has fewer than one daily new case per 100,000 is green. One to 9 is yellow; between 10 and 24 is orange; and 25 and above puts you in the red. “When you get into that orange and red zone it means, in all likelihood, you’re seeing a lot of velocity, a kind of fast upward trend,” Allen says.
This is by no means the only attempt to categorize risk levels across the United States. There are a number of frameworks out there using different measures. And that can lead to confusion, says Allen. “What we really need is a shared vocabulary and shared way of presenting data across jurisdictions,” she says. This effort represents the consensus of eight institutions and more than a dozen individual experts who have agreed on these metrics.
There are other important metrics when it comes to tracking the spread and severity of COVID-19. Local public health leaders need to know how many people are dying and how many people are hospitalized. They need to know how many tests are coming back positive in an area….