counting COVID-19 deaths (or not)

Two COVID-19 articles in the recent issue of Nature relating to data gathering issues. One on the difficulty to distinguish direct COVID deaths from indirect ones from the excess deaths, which “to many scientists, it’s the most robust way to gauge the impact of the pandemic” (which I supported). As indeed the COVID pandemic reduced people access to health care, both because health structures were overwhelmed and because people were scared of catching the virus when visiting these structures. The article [by Giuliana Viglione] supports the direct exploitation of death certificates, to improve the separation, quoting Natalie Dean from the University of Florida in Gainesville. Although this creates a strong lag in the reporting and hence in health policy decisions. (Assuming the overall death reporting is to be trusted, which is not the case for all countries.)

“This long-standing neglect has been exacerbated by the lack of national leadership during the pandemic.”

The other article is about the reasons why the COVID-19 crisis in the US is doubled by a COVID-19 data crisis. Mentioning “political meddling, privacy concerns and years of neglect of public-health surveillance systems” as some of the sources for unreliable data on the pandemic range and evolution. Hardly any contact tracking (as opposed to South Korea or Vietnam), a wealth of local, state and federal structures, data diverted and hence delayed (or worse) to a new system launched by the US Department for Health and Human Services (HHS) for an ill-used $10 million. And data often shared (or lost) by fax! “Lack of leadership,” to state the obvious….

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