US HHS Releases New COVID-19 Data
December 30, 2020 by
Governments, researchers, nonprofits, and the public all play a role in ending the pandemic.
Together, they’re making choices about policies, collaborations, and resource planning. We know decisions are only as good as the information they’re based upon. That’s why access to centralized, comprehensive health information is the most important tool for government and community leaders to manage the pandemic in their communities.
In December, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) — which already shares more than 4,000 data assets with the public — added crucial COVID-19 vaccine and hospitalization information and began posting additional datasets at beta.healthdata.gov. The release includes a daily community profile report, which has garnered more than 69,800 views in its first two weeks, as well as details on patient impact and hospital capacity by facility and by state. Taken together, the release provides a standardized, nationwide, and publicly available view of the pandemic.
Making the Data Public
“HHS believes in the power of open data and transparency,” wrote federal officials in a Dec. 18 statement about the release. “By publicly posting the reports that our own response teams use and by having others outside of the federal response use the information, the data will only get better.”
It gives the public access to the same data used by federal personnel and the White House COVID-19 Task Force.
State and local government leaders, as well as other responders and residents, can use this data to ultimately help save lives from COVID-19. In addition to informing state and local decision-makers and aligning on messaging, these organizations can compare with greater accuracy how their communities are faring with neighboring jurisdictions.
For example, data shows the number of U.S. hospitals that are reporting and able to meet demand of COVID-related hospitalizations, as well as those that are not. Stakeholders can dive into ICU bed capacity data and determine where to allocate resources to curb behavior, ramp up testing, or invest in contact tracing to slow the spread.
The community profile report, which uses data collected by various agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also highlights “select high burden” areas, where daily new cases are surging along with the percentage of positive tests.
“We hope the publication of this data will help Americans make personal choices to slow the spread,” wrote federal officials.
Connecting With State and Local Government
Communities vary in how they report data, which means comparing across borders and jurisdictions can be a challenge — beyond the task of simply accessing the data.
“There are different reporting processes across the local, state, and federal levels, and it took time and effort to create consistency across these systems to present the data as you see it today,” said Katie McKoegh, HHS spokeswoman, in a statement to CNBC. “This report has been extremely valuable to the federal response, and we hope that it will also be helpful to state and local public health departments, hospitals, businesses, and the public.”
This data release supports a deeper understanding the pandemic and related trends by using metrics that are standardized across the U.S. data sources and methods, documented in metadata, provide details into the analysis. Because the data is API-enabled, anyone can tap into it and easily maintain an up-to-date view of the data.
People interested in accessing the data can use the API endpoint to connect with the data. For more information on Tyler’s API endpoints, see this article.
Data in Use
Since its release in December, the data is making big waves among journalists, researchers, epidemiologists, and policymakers.
The data can help shed light on several questions, including how transmission rates vary by geography, how to try and address racial inequities, and how various communities are impacted. New York Times, for example, is leveraging the data to show readers ICU capacity in their communities.
National Public Radio quotes Ryan Panchadsaram, who co-founded covidexitstrategy.org, “This data release is monumental ... We have to celebrate this moment.”