Paper by Sharon LaFraniere: “After a middle-aged woman tested positive for Covid-19 in January at her workplace in Fairbanks, public health workers sought answers to questions vital to understanding how the virus was spreading in Alaska’s rugged interior.
The woman, they learned, had underlying conditions and had not been vaccinated. She had been hospitalized but had recovered. Alaska and many other states have routinely collected that kind of information about people who test positive for the virus. Part of the goal is to paint a detailed picture of how one of the worst scourges in American history evolves and continues to kill hundreds of people daily, despite determined efforts to stop it.
But most of the information about the Fairbanks woman — and tens of millions more infected Americans — remains effectively lost to state and federal epidemiologists. Decades of underinvestment in public health information systems has crippled efforts to understand the pandemic, stranding crucial data in incompatible data systems so outmoded that information often must be repeatedly typed in by hand. The data failure, a salient lesson of a pandemic that has killed more than one million Americans, will be expensive and time-consuming to fix….(More)”.
The precise cost in needless illness and death cannot be quantified. The nation’s comparatively low vaccination rate is clearly a major factor in why the United States has recorded the highest Covid death rate among large, wealthy nations. But federal experts are certain that the lack of comprehensive, timely data has also exacted a heavy toll.
“It has been very harmful to our response,” said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, who leads the White House effort to control the pandemic. “It’s made it much harder to respond quickly.”
Details of the Fairbanks woman’s case were scattered among multiple state databases, none of which connect easily to the others, much less to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal agency in charge of tracking the virus. Nine months after she fell ill, her information was largely useless to epidemiologists because it was impossible to synthesize most of it with data on the roughly 300,000 other Alaskans and the 95 million-plus other Americans who have gotten Covid.