- The COVID dashboard on Tuesday
Vermont, like many states, has publicly posted the number of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths at least each weekday throughout the pandemic. The data has been compiled into a user-friendly dashboard on the health department’s website that offers a comprehensive look at where the virus is spreading. Some have relied on the information to decide whether they want to take extra precautions such as wearing masks indoors or avoiding crowded places.
But state officials say the widespread deployment of vaccines and at-home tests have made daily case counts a far less meaningful metric, while the more useful data points of hospitalizations and deaths are better viewed over longer periods of time.
At Gov. Phil Scott’s weekly press briefing on Tuesday, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the state will cease daily dashboard updates and instead produce a weekly surveillance report. The first report will be out this Wednesday, May 11, while the last dashboard update will occur May 18.
“The health department will continue to collect, analyze and respond to data in real time,” Levine said. “But our teams need to get back to focusing their time on analyzing the most valuable data from a public health perspective."
People who regularly monitor the state’s COVID-19 dashboard — journalists, for one — can still access daily case count and hospitalization data via spreadsheets posted to an online portal that the health department will continue to update.
Vermont is far from alone in making the change; roughly half of all U.S. states now report COVID-19 figures weekly. Some experts fear that the weekly schedules will hinder efforts to respond to the pandemic, while others say it will make time for a more useful data analysis.
"Your threat actually doesn't change every day," Janet Hamilton, executive director of the Council of States and Territorial Epidemiologists, recently told CNN. "As an individual, there is something about daily that is perceived as meaningful, and this is where we're trying to separate that from what's meaningful from a true disease transmission impact."
Vermont's shift comes as the virus continues to spread rapidly across the state.
The state reported roughly 335 infections each day over the last week, while the number of people hospitalized with the virus has risen to 75 — the highest it has been in three months.
A New York Times database shows Vermont reporting more cases per 100,000 people over the last 14 days than almost any other state. The rest of the Northeast has experienced a similar spike.
Between a quarter and one-third of Vermonters had contracted the virus as of February, far below the nationwide figure of nearly 60 percent, according to VTDigger.org, which reported on recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Officials believe that low rate of natural immunity could be fueling some of the recent case spike.
Vermont officials have asserted for months that the state is moving toward an "endemic" stage of the virus, the point at which it becomes a permanent but less disruptive part of life. Rather than make population-wide recommendations, they have encouraged people to make decisions based on their own personal risk factors.
The adoption of a weekly data reporting schedule will not impact people's ability to make such decisions, Levine asserted. Vermonters should be making risk assessments based on longer-term trends, he said, not daily case count fluctuations.
"If there are people who have an addiction to going on the case dashboard every day and waking up and deciding if they should put a mask on or not, that's probably not the way that they should be approaching this," he said.