(Bloomberg) — The US government’s count of new Covid-19 cases has been dropping for months. Soon, it will disappear entirely.
Thousands of Americans are still contracting the coronavirus each week. But when the public health emergency ends May 11, laboratories across the country will no longer be required to report Covid test results to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That will eventually mean no more weekly infection, transmission and community-level numbers in CDC’s Covid Data Tracker.
Read More: What’s at Stake as US Ends Covid Emergency Measures: QuickTake
Concern about the pandemic is rapidly flagging as infection levels fall to those seen in the earliest months of the outbreak. The World Health Organization also moved to end its global health emergency Friday, lowering its alert level for the pandemic three years after the lethal disease was first seen in China.
US infection data had already become increasingly unreliable as Americans began opting for at-home, rapid Covid tests — which most patients don’t report — rather than laboratory assays, like PCR. CDC will turn its attention to tracking severe Covid illness via hospital admissions, officials said on a call with reporters, while continuing to analyze wastewater and tests of international travelers to determine how the virus is spreading and evolving.
From the outset of the pandemic, the CDC’s data collection and analysis faced criticism. Officials have pointed to the agency’s dependence on state and local health departments for voluntary cooperation, along with outdated technology and a lack of universal standards across those local groups. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has repeatedly asked Congress to give her agency more power to collect data.
The agency’s “ability to detect and monitor should be built into our baseline, not contingent upon emergency declarations,” Nirav Shah, CDC’s principal deputy director, said on a call with reporters.
The post-emergency regime will lead to other changes, health officials said: Covid death counts that were once based on case reporting will instead be derived from death certificates. Viral genome sequencing, which tracks the evolution of new variants that may be more infectious or dangerous, will be published on a less-frequent, biweekly basis. State-level estimates for variant prevalence will be removed from the tracker, the CDC said.
Vaccination data will only be available from jurisdictions that agree to continue sharing those numbers beyond the end of the public health emergency. Many have already done so, said Brendan Jackson, the lead of the CDC’s Covid response.
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