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In a pandemic, numbers are king. “Data might seem like an overly technical obsession,” Robinson Meyer and Alexis C. Madrigal wrote today. “But data are how our leaders apprehend reality.”
Robinson and Alexis know firsthand: The pair are co-founders of the COVID Tracking Project, which stepped up to fill the data void left by the government last spring. It quickly became one of the most reliable data sources throughout the pandemic.
One year and one new presidential administration later, that project is winding down, and we’re reflecting on the state of COVID-19 outbreak data.
Some bad news: Problems in America’s data systems—particularly when it comes to how we interpret the numbers—linger. “Some underlying failures remain unfixed,” Robinson and Alexis warn. “The same calamity could happen again.”
Some (relatively) good news: Scientists are able to monitor mutations like never before. “We are now living through the first pandemic in human history where scientists can sequence fast and furiously enough to track a novel virus’s evolution in real time—and to act decisively on that information,” Sarah Zhang reports.