I’m Betsy Ladyzhets, a data journalist and science writer. I run the [COVID-19 Data Dispatch](v ), an independent publication covering on all the ins and outs of tracking the pandemic. Since last July, I’ve put out an issue every week, covering everything from why contact tracing hasn’t worked in the U.S. to why I feel personally victimized by certain state dashboards. ( Subscribe here! ) I also manage science and health coverage at the online data journalism outlet Stacker and am a data entry volunteer at the COVID Tracking Project. I live in Brooklyn, NY, and would have a lot of nasty words for Andrew Cuomo if I ever got the chance to attend one of his briefings. (Quick disclaimer: Though I volunteer for the COVID Tracking Project, my publication is completely separate, reflects only my own reporting, and doesn’t communicate on behalf of the Project in any way. Same goes for this AMA.)

I’m Benjy Renton, a data journalist, researcher and student at Middlebury College. I have been reporting on and researching the pandemic since last January, when I was studying abroad in China and experienced the beginning of the outbreak first-hand. Since April, I’ve been publishing a weekly newsletter on the national trajectory of the pandemic and its effects on higher education. Most recently, I have been working on tracking vaccine allocations, distributions and administrations.


EDIT, 2:41 PM Thank you for all of the great questions! Betsy is heading out (she has a COVID Tracking Project shift to get to), while Benjy will stick around and answer a few more.

Comments: 537 • Responses: 34  • Date: 

jetskimike23117 karma

I heard early in the pandemic that Sweden wasn’t enforcing the lockdowns and restrictions other countries were, and have since been told that it was a big success or total failure depending on who you ask. What’s your take? What was Sweden’s approach and how did it work out?

betsyladyz209 karma

Sweden's response was different compared to many other countries, with no general lockdown. It focused on mitigation: slowing, but not stopping, the pandemic, with the idea that "protecting the vulnerable" would help avoid deaths but continuing the functioning of society. It didn't work — nursing home deaths surged in the spring and while the country was able to keep case counts low over the summer, they rose in the fall at a greater rate compared to Nordic neighbors.


Late in the fall, Sweden had to impose more restrictions to help curb infections, essentially acknowledging that the initial strategy needed a course correction.

- Benjy

samthemaam1494 karma

I’d love to hear a perspective on the handling of vaccine rollout in terms of systems (my 72 year old dad in FL said they kicked off appointments using EVENTBRITE 😑), organization, and speed in the U.S. Are we giving cookies to our leaders for doing the bare minimum, for example?

betsyladyz102 karma

Without funding towards state and local health departments, many states and counties were relegated to using systems such as EventBrite or other platforms to help book vaccine appoints. This has led to concerns about privacy and fraudulent events: https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/06/tech/eventbrite-vaccine-scam/index.html

In an ideal world, I believe we would have one federal system for people to book vaccine appoints; some coordinated effort is something the CDC may be working on. We are also facing issues of access to technology and helping the elderly book appointments; this underscores the need for outreach, hotlines and other tools to meet people where they are. In Vermont, for example, EMS teams will be delivering vaccines to homebound Vermonters starting next week — I have not seen other states do this yet.

- Benjy

betsyladyz34 karma

I absolutely agree that we need to keep pushing our leaders to improve the vaccine rollout. Like I said in response to another question, Operation Warp Speed focused on all the aspects of vaccine development without preparing for the massive task of physically getting vaccines into people's arms. The federal government left this task up to state/county public health departments, and state/county public health departments are (understandably!) exhausted and underfunded after a year of dealing with this pandemic.

Vaccinations have slowly been speeding up -- Bloomberg's tracker is now reporting 1.4 million doses administered per day. And Biden's administration is trying to help speed things up through deploying the national guard, including more public health dept funding in his stimulus package, that kind of thing. But I fully anticipate that I and many other science/health journalists will need to stay laser-focused on covering vaccinations for several months at least. - Betsy

esjro30 karma

My questions are regarding vaccine distribution, as in the state where I live (NJ) it has been a cluster: eligibility opened to a level where demand far exceeds supply, and dozens of registration systems that are not user friendly, especially for the vulnerable older population.

Does the data suggest that federal and local governments and private distributors (hospitals, pharmacies, etc.) are making improvements to their processes, or will The Hunger Games scenario continue indefinitely?

Second, I see a lot of stories on social media about people skipping the line (lying about eligibility, getting vaccininated through personal connections, etc.) Is there any data to indicate what percentage of the people getting vaccinated actually meet CDC guidelines for eligibility at this time versus sneaking in? In other words, are the shots going into the arms they are intended for during this phase?

Thanks for doing this AMA!

betsyladyz28 karma

The vaccine rollout in many states is still in its early stages, which have often been labeled as the easiest — we know where healthcare workers and nursing home residents are, for example. As supply increases (and I expect in the next two months we will see supply increases in Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but also possible J&J, Novavax and AstraZeneca) it will be easier to distribute to the wider population. I am working with some states to help streamline their distribution processes, but expect some of these changes in the coming weeks and months:

  • Expansion of the federal pharmacy partnership program
  • More mass vaccination sites with the help of FEMA
  • Possible expansion into primary care facilities (this will be possible with the J&J, AZ or other vaccines that require only refrigeration).

In terms of being able to access vaccines, https://vaccinefinder.org/ will be launching shortly with a national list of vaccination sites. So far, some states have lists online and others only do when you book a vaccine.

I'll let Betsy answer the second part.

- Benjy

betsyladyz25 karma

Answering the second part: I've been laser-focused on demographic data in my own coverage of vaccinations. There isn't yet much demographic data at the federal level -- the CDC released a report earlier this week with some information on the first month of vaccinations, but even they are missing demographic data for a lot of people who have been vaccinated. (https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7005e1.htm?s_cid=mm7005e1_w)

Meanwhile, many states are regularly reporting the age of those who have been vaccinated, so we can at least see how well they're doing at reaching their senior populations. Some states are also reporting race and ethnicity data, which is useful for evaluating the equity of the vaccine rollout. A lot of states are also specifically reporting on how many shots have gone to long-term care facilities. Two areas of data that I would really like to see (but haven't seen anywhere yet) are occupation and comorbidities. In other words -- how many teachers have been vaccinated? How many people with diabetes? Etc.

I'm keeping tabs on the vaccination data released by every state and some major national sources here: https://coviddatadispatch.com/vaccination-data-in-the-u-s/ - Betsy

westerngermany13 karma

what do you estimate the total number of non-Covid related deaths in 2020 due to things like suicide, overdose, and elderly negligence?

betsyladyz5 karma

We likely won't have precise numbers for a while, but you can estimate based on excess deaths. The CDC updates its estimates of excess deaths (nationally, by state, by different demographic groups) each week: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/excess_deaths.htm - Betsy

Briamah12 karma

There is not much data on the children(18 and younger). Are they typically less likely to catch Covid still?

betsyladyz25 karma

Generally yes, children have been less susceptible COVID-19. I just looked at the CDC data -- 1.9% of cases in the US are in children ages 0-4, and 9.3% are in children ages 5-17. Both of those groups also constitute 0.1% of deaths. (https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#demographics)

One big data gap, though, is information on cases in K-12 schools. I've reported on this issue a lot because I think it's often missing from the school reopening discussion -- we don't have a federal dataset on kids who have caught the virus at school, and state reporting is spotty. (https://coviddatadispatch.com/k-12-schools-data-in-the-u-s/) - Betsy

fingerpocketclub11 karma

I have autoimmune disease. I’ve found it incredibly hard to find any information for people who fit my description; I’m high risk due to having no immune system; will I ever be offered the injection? Will it just be delayed or maybe a different strain given? Or will I just be in quarantine the rest of my life.

ANY information appreciated.

betsyladyz5 karma

Unfortunately, it will depend on where you live -- some states are prioritizing people with high-risk conditions, while others are prioritizing other groups first. I have a resource page with links to all the state vaccination dashboards; you should check to see what your state (or even your county) is doing. And if you can't get a clear answer, start calling and be as obnoxious as you can until you do get one. https://coviddatadispatch.com/vaccination-data-in-the-u-s/

Good luck, I'm sorry I couldn't be more helpful. - Betsy

fenixi010 karma

Am I correct to assume that infection numbers are a lot higher than reported and deaths are lower, therefore mortality rate is thus way lower than reported?

It seems common sense that cases are a lot higher simply because we haven’t tested everybody and because the test came about a lot later than when people started getting infected.

And as for death numbers, apparently a lot of deaths were reported as COVID deaths before we even had a test and were reported only based on the symptoms.

And I’m not the only one saying this. Elon Musk was saying we need to look at the data because current data is screwed and unreliable.

Please correct me if I’m wrong. Thanks!

betsyladyz23 karma

Infection numbers are certainly higher than reported. We honestly still aren't doing enough testing in the US, which means that a lot of people who become infected but have few/no symptoms are likely not included in the case counts. One source I like for tracking this is Youyang Gu's COVId-19 projections; he estimates true infections based on case counts and other factors -- https://covid19-projections.com/

Death numbers are likely also higher than reported. Reporting a COVID-19 death is complicated; it can be a different process depending on if someone dies at a hospital vs. at home, if they've been able to get tested, which state they live in, whether a doctor or a coroner evaluates the situation, etc. The COVID Tracking Project often finds that death reporting "lags" case reporting by a couple of weeks, meaning that there is a time gap between a death actually occurring and the death being recorded. However, we can look at deaths retroactively through a metric called "excess deaths," in which total deaths during a particular time period are compared to the average deaths during that same time period in past years. Excess deaths have been incredibly high in the US in 2020, which suggests that many people who did in fact die from COVID are not yet included in the tallies.

If you want to dive more into this issue, I'd recommend reading these: https://www.statnews.com/2021/01/25/undercounting-covid-19-deaths-greatest-in-pro-trump-areas-analysis-shows/, https://www.spotlightpa.org/news/2020/09/pa-coronavirus-deaths-reporting-edrs/ - Betsy

Far_Passion9 karma

Are there any particular trends in covid rates since passing the holiday surge from your data?

betsyladyz20 karma

Right now, there's actually a pretty clear trend: all the major metrics (newly reported cases and deaths, patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19) are going down in most parts of the US. You can see this in the latest weekly analysis post from the COVID Tracking Project: https://covidtracking.com/analysis-updates/numbers-are-high-but-improving-this-week-in-covid-19-data-feb-4 It's worth noting, though, that deaths are always counted more slowly than other metrics because the process for reporting a COVID-19 death can take a long time and varies a lot by state. We only started to see a drop in new COVID-19 deaths this past week. - Betsy

ian_cubed3 karma

Why do you think this is?

I have a friend on Facebook claiming that because all these states are on the decline and many don’t have lockdowns, that lockdowns are ineffective

DustyFootPhi1osopher5 karma

Sorry, not OP but even if the lockdowns were ineffective, that still wouldn't guarantee that the opposite is true

betsyladyz6 karma

^ I agree with this. It's really difficult to assign causality to cases going up/down, especially because there are usually a bunch of factors working at once. You need what I've seen called the Swiss cheese model -- masks + avoiding large gatherings + testing + contact tracing + people staying home if they're sick + etc. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_cheese_model#/media/File:SwissCheese_Respiratory_Virus_Interventions-ver3.0.png - Betsy

maelunoc8 karma

Why, with COVID-19 being so prevalent, has seasonal flu almost not been seen this year? Is it just because our social distancing has stopped its spread? Or has COVID-19 filled the influenza niche? How come COVID-19 numbers are so close to influenza numbers? Is COVID-19 our new seasonal flu?

betsyladyz11 karma

It is true that flu levels are at near-record lows this year, due to social distancing and other measures, in addition to the flu being less transmissible than COVID-19. There's a good article here that discusses how the coronavirus may have been able to jostle to the top, ahead of other viruses.

- Benjy


MrWar4208 karma

Any treatment or information on losing smell and taste and not regaining then after almost 8 months? Thanks for the AMA and your work.

betsyladyz11 karma

It's still a growing body of research. I'd suggest you check out this article for more information. - Benjy


Too-Far-Frame7 karma

Once I'm vaccinated, will I still be able to get, and then spread C19? Even though I won't get sick, I can still spread to others right?

betsyladyz9 karma

We still don't know the answer to this. It is likely that being vaccinated will mean you carry less of the virus but may still be able to transmit it to others. See this article for a good discussion: - Benjy


corraide5 karma

Things here in Brazil still kind of chaotic. Our president is in denial. How you guys understand our approach to covid-19 as internacional journalists?

betsyladyz15 karma

I have seen a lot of similarities between Brazil and the US. I actually talked to a couple of Brazillian journalists recently for an (upcoming) piece at The Open Notebook, and I learned that some journalists there had to compile COVID-19 numbers from states because the federal government wasn't releasing reliable data -- which is exactly how the COVID Tracking Project got started here. I have immense respect and admiration for reporters in Brazil who are continuing to fight to get true, accurate information out to people while their government undermines those efforts. - Betsy

veegard5 karma

How dangerous is this disease if contracted, compared to other similar diseases, and how much more contagious is it than other similar diseases? Does the infections stop after a while in areas where they don’t have lots of shutdowns and has not made any changes in society? Haven’t heard much about it in Africa and the Far East sans China for example.

betsyladyz8 karma

The danger that COVID-19 poses to individuals can vary a lot; it's a huge area of ongoing research for many scientists. We know that people who are older and who have certain health conditions (such as lung disease, heart conditions, diabetes) are more likely to have severe cases, but that doesn't mean that younger/healthier folks are immune. Many people have had COVID-19 cases in which their symptoms last for months; these long-haulers (as they're often called) can be healthy before they get sick, but then deal with exhaustion, chest pain, brain fog, etc. COVID-19 can impact your brain, your immune system, your heart -- many people who have had it will see health outcomes for years.

When you ask about infections stopping after a while, you're referring to what epidemiologists call herd immunity (enough people in a region have had COVID-19 that the population as a whole is protected). Some scientists and politicians have suggested that it might be possible for different regions to reach this type of immunity without widespread vaccination, but we haven't seen any evidence of this happening yet. My friend Christie Aschwanden has a good article on this: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02948-4

Many countries in Africa and Asia actually did a good job of closing borders, setting up quarantines for travelers, and enforcing other precuations that have enabled them to prevent COVID-19 from becoming a large threat without shutdowns. (Vietnam and South Korea are two widely-cited examples of this.) - Betsy

Mutancho3 karma

Comment on the vaccine. Things like effectiveness or possibly side effects if any? General opinion on the whole sub year vaccine development.

betsyladyz27 karma

I think the dialogue on how fast the COVID-19 vaccines have been developed (especially the Pfizer and Moderna ones) obscures the fact that biologists have been researching these vaccine technologies for decades. There's a STAT piece on the history of mRNA vaccines that's a fascinating read if you're into this sort-of nerdy topic: https://www.statnews.com/2020/11/10/the-story-of-mrna-how-a-once-dismissed-idea-became-a-leading-technology-in-the-covid-vaccine-race/

Also, while Operation Warp Speed clearly did a good job of ramping up vaccine production, so many aspects of vaccine distribution were not considered at all. We needed an OWS-level effort to help states and local public health departments set up their registration portals, to communicate why the vaccines are safe (particularly to POC/low-income/otherwise vulnerable communities), to figure out how to get vaccines to hard-to-reach areas, and so many other elements of the rollout.

I'll quote my own post from a couple of weeks ago: (https://coviddatadispatch.com/2021/01/24/vaccination-is-a-logistics-problem/) "Our current problem is, in fact, a logistics one. It’s a build up of infrastructure failures, with all the weight falling on those underfunded local public health departments I mentioned in the previous section. Right now, these public health workers are trying to set up vaccination appointments, while also dealing with constantly-changing information from their state on how many doses they will get, while also stretching out a depleted budget, while also probably short on personnel because half of their staff quit or got COVID-19 in 2020, while also dealing with backlash from their communities, while also fielding endless calls from confused grandmas… and all of this while still testing, contact tracing, and communicating basic pandemic safety measures. Whew. I got tired just writing that sentence."

As for side effects: we know some minor side effects are common, from both clinical trials of the vaccines and data collected since we started administering them widely in the US. If you get vaccinated, you should expect pain and swelling in your arm, maybe a fever, maybe a headache, maybe being tired for the next day. This is especially true after the second shot. The side effects are actually good, in a way, because they tell you that your body's immune response is ramping up as it should. (The CDC has a page on this here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/expect/after.html) - Betsy

Paranoid_Redditor_CA3 karma

How did the developed countries failed to contain the pandemic? Most of them are experiencing a very severe 2nd wave. What was special about the response by China, New Zealand etc which other countries missed?

Going forward what are the options for third world countries with limited access to vaccine?

betsyladyz12 karma

Many of the countries that succeeded in containing the pandemic had a robust connection between public health leaders and political leaders, allowing public health measures to be put into place quickly without a lot of political fighting. Citizens trusting their government to put good measures in place (and then complying with the measures) also appears to be key. There was a big study recently in which an interdisciplinary group of researchers compared government responses; I covered it for my publication here: https://coviddatadispatch.com/2021/01/17/trust-is-key-for-a-successful-covid-19-response/

And I think countries in the Global South will be relying heavily on international initiatives like COVAX to get vaccine doses. It's unfortunate that rich nations are prioritizing their own populations over the rest of the world, but... not surprising. - Betsy

mugsy183 karma

Mr. Renton, put simply, could you explain the data tracking things you've had like tracking white house outbreak? What technical things does one need to learn to do something similar? Also I am interested do you just follow the news very closely to keep track of all of it - what's your method there?

betsyladyz5 karma

Glad you were able to follow the White House tracker! We had initially started writing down who was testing positive and contacts on a simple powerpoint slide — and then with the help of my colleagues Peter and Jesse we were able to build a dashboard using Tableau (free and quite easy to use). Throughout the outbreak(s), we used news reports, photos, social media posts and attendee lists to keep track of everyone at various events. I get my news from a variety of sources, including Twitter, various national and local newspapers and newsletters, in addition to more science-based sources such as medical journals or preprints. I think it is important to read the original documents (scientific papers) in addition to the news reports in order to have a full idea of what exactly the science says. Hope that helps!

- Benjy

Rtg327gej3 karma

Does anyone actually know the real numbers in Florida? They just arrested a data scientist down there recently.

betsyladyz10 karma

The Florida situation is complicated! I have been following Rebekah Jones (the data scientist you mention) for a while; her experience definitely puts the state government in a bad light. I will also say, though, that Florida has become more transparent about its data since the summer. After the COVID Tracking Project drew attention to some data issues in July (https://covidtracking.com/analysis-updates/florida-covid-19-data), we saw the state make improvements, such as reporting current hospitalization data.

To answer your question more directly -- I don't think anyone actually knows the real numbers anywhere, because there is still likely a significant undercounting of cases and deaths. But outside pressure from CTP, Rebekah Jones, and others can help push a state like Florida to be more transparent about what is known and unknown. - Betsy

zaubermantel2 karma

How close are we to knowing the rate of asymptomatic cases among fully vaccinated people? What about answering the question "Can people who are fully vaccinated still transmit coronavirus to un-vaccinated people?"

betsyladyz4 karma

I don't think we're very close to knowing answers to either of those, unfortunately. As more people get vaccinated (and as Pfizer/Moderna/other countries continue to keep tabs on the people in their clinical trial cohorts), more data will be collected on how the vaccines work, but it's a long process and I don't feel qualified to give any precise estimates. And it's particularly difficult to answer questions about asymptomatic cases in the U.S. because we're still not good at identifying asymptomatic cases, as testing is difficult to access for people who don't have symptoms or exposure in many places. - Betsy

FaisalAli_912 karma

Hey that's very cool.

Question: I'm looking too become a data journalist myself. I have experience as a newspaper reporter and photographer, and a background in math data analysis with excel, python and SQL.

What do I need to do to show companies that I am the right reporter for the job? I don't have an extensive data journalist portfolio. Should I create a GitHub and upload some simple analysis to showcase my talents?

How did you get into data journalism?

betsyladyz5 karma

I was pretty lucky, in that I got an internship at Stacker (a data journalism startup) while I was in college that became a full-time job once I graduated. That gave me a lot of opportunities to learn different analysis tools and techniques. There are so many free resources out there to help journalists learn to use data -- I compiled a list of them in this piece: https://www.theopennotebook.com/2020/07/28/interrogating-data-a-science-writers-guide-to-data-journalism/

I definitely think you should create a GitHub and upload some work! You might also want to look for ways to contribute to COVID-19 data reporting, whether that's volunteering at a research project or pitching stories on this topic. The COVID Tracking Project is spinning down, otherwise I'd tell you to join CTP, but there are tons of other similar efforts (COVID Act Now is one https://covidactnow.org). In my experience, publications are so eager to run data journalism content that they're looking more for people with a demonstrated skillset (which it sounds like you have!) rather than a bunch of clips. - Betsy

hokey-gnocchi2 karma

Betsy, what is your favorite emoji in the CTP Slack?

betsyladyz3 karma

:ctp-bagel: and the ensuing :bagel-data-dispatch:, of course.

ArcaneCat2 karma

@Benjy Renton, did you specifically have any problems forwarding information about the virus during your stay in China?

betsyladyz1 karma

In the early days, we essentially knew what was being reported in local media — it was around the 3rd week in January where human-to-human transmission was confirmed. I didn't run into any particular problems. The outbreak was seen at the time quite localized to the Wuhan/Hubei area — I was not in that area and so the perceived risk at the time was quite low. - Benjy

TimeVendor2 karma

So, is COVID-19 man made or gradually popped up in nature like Spanish flu?

betsyladyz14 karma

We don't have any evidence that it's man-made. It is difficult for scientists to entirely rule out that possibility, though, which is part of why the World Health Organization is currently conducting an investigation into the disease's origins in China. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(21)00295-6/fulltext - Betsy

Ok-Ad50441 karma

Thoughts on schools reopening? Is it safe to do so? Do you think the benefits outweigh the risks? Thanks for doing this by the way!!

betsyladyz4 karma

At the White House COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said that teachers don't need to be vaccinated for schools to reopen. The data we have suggest that this is true -- some school districts have managed to open, pre-widespread teacher vaccinations, without seeding outbreaks. But Walensky got slammed for her remarks! I think that moment was a great indication of how polarized the school reopening debate has become.

The COVID Data Dispatch actually published a post last week on the reopening question: https://coviddatadispatch.com/2021/01/31/experts-say-schools-could-reopen-but-data-are-still-scarce/ The tl;dr is, evidence suggests that schools can safely open, but there are a lot of caveats. You need low case numbers in the community, universal masks, good ventilation, and other elements in place. And it is also important to acknowledge that the choice to let their kids go back to in-person learning is a deeply personal one for many parents, sometimes driven by their trust in the school system. I live in NYC, and I've seen how more white parents are inclined to trust our (deeply segregated) school system than Black and Hispanic/Latino parents. So, even if school reopening is "safe" from an epidemiologist's POV, there could be many more steps to make it "safe" from a parent's or teacher's POV, and I think it is important to consider all of those perspectives. - Betsy

rcc7371 karma

Long ago I decided to go to college and become a business marketing major. After learning more about it I figured it wasn't for me. Next up was journalism and psychology double major. Even as far back as the early 1990's the industry was more about a toned down Howard Stern style publishing/writing than about informing the public about issues.

Fast forward to the last five years or so. Reporting/publishing is a giant mess to put it nicely. While I can appreciate people need to make a living so much of what's out there has turned into a cesspool of "BE ANGRY BECAUSE!!!!!" Carefully placed adjectives/adverbs along with an anecdote or two about the hot topic of the day generates clicks (ie, advertising $$$).

So my question would be can you write/publish things for the greater good of society without sinking into the "OMG!!! ACK!" style writing? This includes driving your own opinion towards how bad or good various things are?

betsyladyz2 karma

I think you can. I was lucky enough to take a course for entrepreneurial journalists at the CUNY journalism school this past fall/winter; I learned that there are many methods out there for doing journalism work without tying yourself to ads/clicks. My own publication uses a membership model, and there are also a lot of journalism orgs that use partnerships, grants, and other modes of making money. I try to let my readers' questions and areas of curiosity drive my reporting as much as possible by asking for feedback frequently -- and attempting to answer the questions that I get in my issues. (This AMA has given me a lot of topic ideas!) - Betsy

captmomo1 karma

How did you get started in journalism?

What do you think of how Singapore is handling the situation?

What are some surprising stuff you have gleaned from the data?

betsyladyz7 karma

How I got started: I began writing for a student news site in college (https://bwog.com/), and liked it a lot more than the fiction writing I'd done previously. I double-majored in English and Biology; after trying a couple of traditional scientific research internships, I realized that I'd rather write about a lot of different science topics rather than get stuck in a years-long academic niche. I've had a lot of older science journalists and mentors help me out along the way -- joining the National Association of Science Writers when I was a senior (and receiving a Travel Fellowship for the AAAS conference) was pivotal for me.

Surprising stuff: I think one aspect of COVID-19 data reporting that's really surprised me is not so much the data itself as the different ways that the same figures can be presented. For example, if you asked me, "how many Americans have been tested for COVID-19?" I couldn't actually give you a precise answer, because every state reports its tests in a slightly different way, and the federal government's numbers only include PCR tests (not antigen or other types). Methodology differences that you might think would be small can actually have a huge impact.

And I will let Benjy answer the Singapore question, since he's more familiar with that region! - Betsy

betsyladyz4 karma

I have been working on my college's newspaper and have always seen journalism as a way to convey important information and to amplify the stories of those traditionally underrepresented. Especially during the pandemic, I think it's important to ensure trust between the media and the public.

I grew up in Asia and so have been somewhat acquainted with what many countries in the East have done to control the pandemic. Singapore had the advantage of imposing early travel restrictions and ordering quarantines on all that enter. They have totaled 59,000 cases, among the lowest per capita. The country's work on college campuses is pretty impressive, using technology to best control the flow of people: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/09/world/asia/singapore-coronavirus-universities.html

I agree with Betsy's comment on differing data definitions — one of the things that has also surprised me is how people and governments have differing personal/policy thresholds to take action — for example, it appears that some governments wait until hospitals are full to take action, but others focus on case count and are able to impose measures before hospitalizations rise. We all have different sensitivities to the numbers we read.

- Benjy

asasson1 karma

I'm an American living in South Africa. My wife and I are hoping to visit my parents in the US in July, together with our three kids (4, 3, and 2 months).

What is the current data saying on vaccine effectiveness with regards to the SA variant and do you envision grandparents being able to interact with grandkids if they are vaccinated but the kids not?

Thanks for doing this!

betsyladyz3 karma

So far, studies are showing that the major vaccine contenders will still be effective against the South Africa variant, but may have lower effectiveness rates due to mutations in the virus's structure. The COVID-19 Data Dispatch is actually planning a post on this topic for our issue tomorrow -- you can watch the site or subscribe to the newsletter if you'd like to look out for it. https://coviddatadispatch.com/

I think having grandparents interact with kids if the grandparents are vaccinated will be a personal choice based on what kind of risk you and your family are comfortable with. The vaccination could count as an additional precaution that adds a layer of safety to other practices (like quarantining before/after you travel, masks, meeting outdoors, etc) -- but I'm no public health expert, so I'll avoid making a specific recommendation here. - Betsy

Stuzo1 karma

There have been a lot of political decisions where it has been claimed the decision makers were too slow to act. There was a feeling that it had been clear for many weeks where the numbers were going before a decision was actually made, or that the patterns from other countries made it clear where their country was heading.

It's easy to make claims with hindsight, but I feel that it was clear from the numbers that the need for drastic action was inevitable. What were people with more nuanced understanding of data thinking? Did the data provide justification for the delayed decisions?

betsyladyz7 karma

I think most of the public health experts I follow would say no, the data did not provide justification for any delays.

One story that I found really illuminating (and think about often) is this New Yorker piece comparing the early COVID-19 responses in Seattle and New York City, published back in May: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/05/04/seattles-leaders-let-scientists-take-the-lead-new-yorks-did-not The tl;dr is that, in Seattle, politicians and the leaders of large companies (like Microsoft and Amazon) quickly got on board with recommendations from public health experts and encouraged working from home, closed schools,e tc. In New York City, on the other hand, de Blasio and Cuomo tried to avoid panicking people while also fighting with each other on the best way forward. (And we saw in the NYT this week how Cuomo feels about scientific experts.) There have always been qualified people behind the scenes who were ready to give political leaders their recommendations; the responses, in many cases, have depended on whether leaders are willing to take those recommendations. - Betsy

fenixi00 karma

Is there a rise in cases because there is a rise in testing? Or is that wrong? Please explain. Thank you.

betsyladyz2 karma

It's partially correct -- if you test more people, you'll find more cases. But in the case of the US's recent surge during the fall/winter, cases rose at a much sharper rate than tests did. You can see this if you look at COVID Tracking Project charts; put "tests" on one axis and "cases" on the other of this dashboard, for example, and you'll see how the rends compare. https://covidtracking.com/data/charts/2-metrics-7-day-average-curves - Betsy