In November, The Covid Tracking Project stopped reporting recovery figures for the United States as a whole, and yesterday we also removed many, though not all, of the state-level “recovered” values from our website. We want, above all, to provide accurate and meaningful information. Unfortunately, when it comes to recovery data at both the national and state levels, accurate and meaningful information is hard to come by.
There are several reasons to remove these data from our website. First, several states and territories, including large states like California and Florida, don’t report any kind of recovery data, and it doesn’t make sense to report a national total that excludes so much of the country. A second and crucial reason is that “recovered” has no standard definition, and states report it in many different ways. Just as important, many people who have had COVID-19 and have lived to tell the tale—and many of whom are categorized as “recovered”—don’t consider themselves to have actually recovered.
COVID-19 can have many long-term health consequences, and none of the definitions for counting people who have “recovered” from COVID-19 accounts for latent or ongoing health issues that can be caused by COVID-19. Children who develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome because of COVID-19 and “long-haulers,” who continue to suffer worrying symptoms months after first falling ill with COVID-19, are often wrongfully included in recovery statistics, since not all pandemic-burdened public-health departments have the resources to do the individual follow-up investigations that they would ordinarily do for an infectious disease. Moreover, when public-health offices do conduct individual case investigations, many COVID-19 patients do not respond to inquiries, leaving case investigators in the dark about the process of convalescence—the sometimes slow and always individual voyage back to health. Determining how many people have recovered from COVID-19, then, is currently more like trawling with a net than fishing with a pole: Every attempt dredges up a lot of scaly things we don’t want.