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Area health district retools, expands COVID-19 dashboard

Nearly six months since the first COVID-19 case was reported in Charlottesville, the Thomas Jefferson Health District has redesigned its dashboard of case information and added more data points to help the public better understand the status of the pandemic locally.

A big change in the district’s new COVID-19 portal, unveiled Monday, is showing the dates when people tested positive or first developed symptoms, along with a seven-day moving average of new cases for the district by date of onset. Before, the district was reporting new cases based on when they were notified of a positive case.

Information about cases based on the date of onset was only available at the statewide and health region levels.

“That’s really important and has never been shared before at a district level,” said Guleer Shahab, a data analyst with the local health district who manages the data portal. “… We added [the cases by date of onset] to give us a better idea of what happens daily. We wanted something more reliable and accurate.”

The revamped data portal now has five dashboards detailing information about cases, outbreaks and testing in the localities the district serves, including at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail. As it has since the beginning of the pandemic, the district will continue to report new cases by the date the Virginia Department of Health was notified of a positive case. Those numbers are located in the “Localities” dashboard.

The Thomas Jefferson Health District includes the city of Charlottesville and the counties of Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson.

The district still counts its total cases using the report date data because data for the cases by onset date can be delayed for a day or two in order for the health district to gather the necessary information.

Shahab said that though the community has closely followed the daily case totals, looking at the cases by date of onset is a more accurate representation of the trajectory of cases and better for reporting over time.

As of Monday, the seven-day average for cases based on the date of onset, at 18.14, has declined in recent days. The average reached two high points over the summer — in mid-July at 31.29 cases and on Aug. 31 at 29.71.

Shahab said that when the daily-case spikes influence the moving average, that’s cause for alarm.

“The seven-day moving average is helpful because we want to know where we stand and where the trajectory is heading,” she said.

The district also expanded the dashboard to include information about the type of facility reporting an outbreak, such as long-term care facilities and educational or other congregate settings.

More detailed information about cases in long-term care facilities in the district — including the number of cases, hospitalizations and facilities — will continue to be included in the dashboard. Previously, as far as group residential settings, the dashboard only had information about cases in long-term care facilities.

“We appreciate feedback and listen to all of it,” Shahab said.

All of the health district data does include all University of Virginia-affiliated cases for people living in the area, even if the address the person lists is outside of the health district, according to a news release from the TJHD.

On Monday, UVa reported an additional 45 positive cases among students, bringing the total to 321 and making up 86% of the cases identified by Student Health & Wellness or a UVa clinic, according to the university’s tracker.

Eight percent of the university’s quarantine rooms are occupied, along with 1% of its isolation rooms.

UVa updates its tracker at 4 p.m. on weekdays while TJHD is updating the data portal at 10 a.m. seven days a week.

Other changes to the health district dashboard include broadening the races and ethnicities reported for different cases. In the district, white people make up about 44% of all positive cases, Latinos account for 23.1% and African Americans comprise 16.7%.

Yet, African Americans continue to be hospitalized at a higher rate, making up 37.8% of the 180 local hospitalizations. Data on hospitalizations comes from a person’s status at the time the case was investigated by the health department, so it underrepresents the total number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 in the district.

Monday’s update has been in the works for a long time, Shahab said.

“We continue to monitor data closely,” she said. “The dashboard is constantly under progress as we work to make it more user-friendly and share more accurate and insightful data.”

Shahab said it’s important for community members to not just look at one dataset but use all the information together.

“We know community transmission is happening,” she said, adding that folks should wash their hands, wear a mask and stay six feet away from others.


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