What you need to know
- The CDC is expected to focus on tracking hospitalizations as a way to monitor the spread of COVID-19, similar to how the agency monitors the flu.
- Wastewater surveillance data can provide early warnings to potential new variants or surges before hospitalization numbers see an impact.
- Get up to date on vaccines now. Don’t wait until the next variant or surge to get your bivalent vaccine.
As the virus’s threat diminishes, several COVID-19 tracking systems have shut down over the last few months. Most recently, CNN reported that the CDC will end COVID-19 Community Levels, a system that allows people to track the virus’s transmission by county. Although COVID-19 cases have been on the decline since January, it continues to be important to monitor the virus so that we know when to take extra precautions. Here’s what you should know about the latest change and how it will impact the future of COVID-19 monitoring.
Why is the CDC ending its COVID-19 Community Levels program?
When the national public health emergency expires on May 11, the CDC will lose its authority to collect COVID-19 testing data from state and local health agencies. This change will make it harder for the CDC to update its COVID-19 Community Levels program, which is based on both case and hospitalization data at the county level. As a result, the agency will stop tracking COVID-19 Community Levels and look for new monitoring strategies.
How will the CDC track COVID-19 spread going forward?
According to a CDC spokesperson, “We are working to update the measure used to convey the risk of COVID-19 in communities based on data that will be available.” The CDC is expected to focus on tracking hospitalizations as a way to monitor the spread of COVID-19, similar to how the agency monitors the flu. This makes sense since the government’s goal at this point is to limit severe disease, hospitalization, and death. But by relying solely on hospitalization data, we run the risk of delaying our response to the next surge, as hospitalizations tend to be a lagging indicator of COVID-19 spread.
What resources are still available to track the spread of COVID-19 in my community?
Although reported COVID-19 case counts remain an important indicator of the virus’s spread, they have become less reliable as at-home testing has become more popular. To keep track of the spread of COVID-19 in your community or region, it can be helpful to look at hospitalization numbers as well as wastewater surveillance data. Hospitalization numbers can tell you about the burden of disease from the virus, while wastewater surveillance can provide early warnings to potential new variants or surges before hospitalization numbers see an impact. You can also look to the COVID-19 Data Dispatch’s list of dashboards that have not shut down yet.
When should I be concerned and take extra precautions?
COVID-19 cases have been on the decline since January, and hospitalizations and deaths are nearing all-time lows. This is great news, but it continues to be important to monitor the virus and take extra precautions when necessary. Regardless of what the trends are, make sure you are up to date on your vaccinations. If COVID-19 case numbers or wastewater levels start rising in your community or region, it’s a sign that a potential new variant or surge is coming. In that case, you should be alert and ready to take extra precautions, especially if you are at high risk or immunocompromised. If COVID-19 hospitalizations are rising, it’s likely that viral transmission is already high and a surge is here, so put on your mask and avoid high-risk situations.