Hospital coder believes measuring COVID-19 stats can be more efficient showing specific threats

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JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – A big part of fighting the spread of COVID-19 has been contact-tracing which includes tallying case numbers and where they’re located. But one medical expert is not seeing enough data presented to keep the public informed on the right trends on a day-to-day basis locally.

Both the Department of Health and Eric Dolbear acknowledged the threat to COVID-19 is growing fast in Mississippi and people need to step up.  But it might be easier to notice that threat if cases, deaths, and hospitalizations were laid out more specific than overall total numbers. 

As a senior medical coder for hospital systems from Louisiana to Arkansas, Eric Dolbear sees the key to displaying daily COVID-19 trends is better at a county level. 

“What I really am missing to see is the overall trend to where the infection is blooming,” Dolbear told us. “All I see right now is the total number of infections and deaths per-county. That doesn’t tell me which ones are increasing and which ones are improving.”

Showing some examples Dolbear used the department of health reports to measure new cases in his area. Over two days, Leake County had one new case reported but then 17 the following day.

“I want to see a trend, just a spreadsheet with the daily counts since this started,” Dolbear continued. “So, I can look myself by county and see are they having more cases or fewer cases.”

Putting those daily stats into a line graph it showed the rate for Leake County was growing at a much faster pace. Linking the trend to people not seeing how their specific communities are at risk and ignore the CDC and department of health guidelines. 

“Most of them are probably going to be talking with their neighbors or families,” Dolbear said. “If those people are not getting infected, they’re not going to be really aware that it may be bloom in their own community.”

“We are going to have some county snapshots that will be available soon,” Dr. Paul Buyers with the department of health said. “That will provide some additional granularity for how those case counts are unfolding in their counties.”

On the department of health’s website, you can see graphs illustrating total hospitalizations and cases broken down to overall county cases. But it all begins through individual investigations. 

“If you look at our data that’s on our website, we present those cases on what’s called an epidemic curve,” Dr. Paul Buyers explained. “That’s done on an individual case basis. That doesn’t necessarily mean it occurred that day, there’s often a delay of when that person really became sick and is reported to us.”

Both the department of health and Dolbear pointed to state leaders needing to do more setting a good example when out in public like wearing masks and staying six feet apart as much as possible. 

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