Female health care worker wearing a mask

What Doctors are Watching As they Track the Coronavirus Pandemic

As the coronavirus pandemic enters its sixth month this August, doctors are closely watching the spread of the disease.

Predicting the future of the pandemic is difficult, but top of mind as Michigan turns to the second half of the year. The regular season of influenza illness begins in earnest in October – and health officials are urging individuals to get a flu shot this year to keep hospital resources available to treat COVID-19 patients.

Broadly, there are several high-level indicators that give experts an idea of how the pandemic is progressing – but each must be considered in relation to each other.

Disease Activity

In Michigan, officials update the number of total cases and total deaths every day, as well as the total number of newly reported cases and newly reported deaths.

However, the number of “new cases” and “new deaths” reported each day, frequently aren’t reflective of how the disease is progressing in real time. Often, figures that were previously reported are still being adjusted three to four weeks later, as the return time for test results vary and death counts often lag.

For example, it takes time to correctly document and report a death from COVID-19. Additionally, each state has a different policy for how frequently they update their death counts.

Testing

The rate of positive test results compared to the number of tests conducted in a community is an important measurement. It’s called the positivity rate.

  • If a community has a high positivity rate, they may only be testing the sickest patients and may possibly be missing milder cases or those who are asymptomatic.
  • If a community has a low positivity rate, it may indicate a state has a sufficient testing network in place and is able to make well-informed decisions about reopening.
  • The World Health Organization advises that positivity rates of a maximum of 5% should be met for 14 days before a community loosens any coronavirus restrictions.

As of Aug. 11, the seven-day moving average positivity rate in Michigan is 2.5%. It’s among some of the lowest rates in the nation.

Health System Status

Health care leaders can track the ability of their health care systems and hospitals to respond to the pandemic by watching the capacity in their intensive care units, the availability of personal protective equipment, staffing levels and their testing capacity.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan is also monitoring internal claims data to track how testing and hospitalizations are trending, as well, to better understand the health disparities that have been exposed during the pandemic.

Predicting how the pandemic will progress over the fall and winter months of 2020 is difficult. Experts warn that there are fundamental, unanswered questions about the new coronavirus – including how long immunity lasts in patients who have recovered, when a COVID-19 vaccine will become available and how effective the vaccine will be long term.

On the individual level, it remains crucial for everyone to take the standard pandemic precautions: wash your hands often, wear a face covering in public, social distance, minimize in-person interactions with others and stay home if you’re sick.

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Photo credit: Juanmonino

 

 

 

 

 

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