In the early days of the COVID Tracking Project, we developed a very simple set of “state grades” that assigned letter grades to each of the states and territories we track. Those initial grades evaluated whether states were doing the absolute basics in their COVID-19 public health data reporting: a point for reporting total tests conducted, a point for reporting any negative results ever, another point for reliably reporting negatives, and a point for reporting results from private/commercial laboratories. These grades helped constituents understand whether their home states were doing the basics, and helped states see at a glance how their reporting measured up.
Now, after nearly seven weeks tracking COVID-19 public health data, we’re about to roll out a new, more rigorous state grading system.
Our new state grading system is meant to define and measure what we think of as standard requirements for complete and meaningful COVID-19 public health reporting. We built these updated standards in response to requests by medical professionals, public health researchers, local reporters, and the public. The updated scoring system is the result of a month of research, discussion, and data-crunching with representatives from each of these groups, and sets a more comprehensive and exact standard for US COVID-19 reporting.
The new system aims to fairly evaluate states across the metrics that matter most in this ongoing outbreak. These metrics include testing, patient outcomes, patient demographics, and data format. See our grading guide for a detailed breakdown of the new system.
Many states will see their grades drop significantly in the new system. This does not reflect a drop in the quality of their reporting, but the addition of more—and more exacting—requirements.
States that experience grade drops may be meeting basic requirements for reporting testing data, but not reporting demographic data, or breaking down hospitalization numbers. When this data becomes available, we will update the assigned grade accordingly.
We know that state public health authorities are doing their best to publish complete data despite the limitations of health care systems, and we are very encouraged by the speed with which most states have achieved basic completeness with their testing data. As of today, the vast majority of states had reached an A or B grade in our original system. We expect they will be equally successful in reaching the new standards as well.
Evaluating all the factors we now use for state grades across all states and territories requires a significant time investment, so we’ll be updating our grades every Monday and Thursday, instead of as a live feed.
These grades not only help our audiences understand how each state’s data stacks up. They also help us encourage more states to improve the information they provide. That’s where you can help. If you would like to make an impact, check your state’s grade, and ask your local and state public health departments for greater transparency.
Looking back on a year of collecting COVID-19 data, here’s a summary of the tools we automated to make our data entry smoother and why we ultimately relied on manual data collection.
As The COVID Tracking Project comes to a close, here’s a summary of how states reported data on the five major COVID-19 metrics we tracked—tests, cases, deaths, hospitalizations, and recoveries—and how reporting complexities shaped the data.
When analyzing COVID-19 data, confirmed case counts are obvious to study. But don’t overlook probable cases—and the varying, evolving ways that states have defined them.