We Can’t Stop Reporting Covid Cases


Understanding infection rates in our communities is critical knowledge that keeps us safe by allowing us to modify our behavior based on risk.


With record-breaking Covid case counts sweeping the country once more, many experts have called for a shift from reporting cases to simply recording hospitalizations and deaths. The weak rationale behind this shift is related to the assumption that the Omicron variant is more transmissible but only causes “mild cases” for those who are vaccinated and boosted. Implementing a shift to reporting hospitalizations and deaths would be a grave mistake that endangers many lives.

Understanding infection rates in our communities is critical knowledge that keeps us safe by allowing us to modify our behavior based on risk. I like to use a simple weather analogy when assessing personal risk. If it’s sunny outdoors, you can head out and enjoy the day. Similarly, if infection rates are low in your community, you can feel comfortable going about your everyday activities with few precautions. When it’s drizzling, you may pop open an umbrella. When it’s pouring, you slip on a raincoat and rain boots as well. This may be akin to wearing a mask and avoiding indoor or high-risk activities.

But when there’s a hurricane warning, you head to the safest part of your home and hunker down until the danger has passed. Unfortunately, Omicron has led us into the path of the hurricane, and if we have the privilege to do so, we should be sheltering at home until it passes. The warning that this variant was highly transmissible was delivered in the form of surging case counts which immediately informed the decision to modify our behavior. That’s how we have to think about this pandemic and how we can protect ourselves.

Just imagine if we were only reporting hospitalizations and deaths before the outbreak of Omicron. We would have been caught even more unprepared than we were. We would not have known to modify our behavior, cancel events, distribute resources to healthcare systems and dramatically ramp up testing. This precious data allows planning at the local and federal level, allowing us to understand where to send PPE and testing supplies. Reporting cases internationally allows travelers to make informed decisions and informs international assistance allocations. Not counting cases will also draw focus away from testing as one of the most important tools we have for controlling the pandemic. It may even prevent us from early detection of new variants.

Referring to Omicron infections as “mild” in vaccinated patients discounts the experiences of those who are immunosuppressed and those who experience Long Covid even after an asymptomatic infection. A Penn State study from October 2021 found that more than half of the 236 million people who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 worldwide since December 2019 will experience post-Covid symptoms. Those with Long Covid face a challenging road to diagnosis and even then have very few treatments available. Symptoms range from psychological to heart issues, breathing trouble, chronic fatigue, gastrointestinal distress, and loss of smell and taste. Many have found themselves unable to work or care for their families.

We also cannot neglect the safety and wellbeing of children under the age of 5 who are not yet eligible for vaccinations. Pediatric hospitalizations are up 335% for the week ending Jan 1 in New York. Parents cannot keep their children safe if we are not able to provide them with the data to assess risk.

Let us not keep repeating the same painful mistakes in this pandemic. It was not that long ago that the previous administration was discouraging testing, telling the public that it “makes us look bad” and “testing creates cases”. The more knowledge we have about this ever-evolving virus, the more power we will have to control it. We have very little to gain by eliminating the daily report of cases and everything to lose.


Read the full article on Forbes

Originally published on Forbes on Jan 12, 2022

© William A. Haseltine, PhD. All Rights Reserved.