Sewage and ER Visits Stats Coming in Lawrence Health Department’s COVID-19 Updates – The Lawrence Times

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Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health says goodbye to its large yellow graph of new COVID-19 cases, but it will be replaced with new statistics.

New statistics will still be released on Wednesdays, but with “a suite” of new information to help people make informed decisions for themselves, said Daniel Smith, a spokesman for the organization. These will include “leading” and “lagging” indicators, Smith said.

Updates from LDCPH will soon be available on sewage figures, “which many consider to be an extremely useful tool for anticipating case numbers and transmission rates,” Smith said by email on Tuesday.

These numbers may be familiar to some. The city tracked those numbers early in the pandemic, and in August joined a nationwide effort to detect and monitor COVID-19 and monkeypox in sewage. Concentrations of genetic material in sewage can indicate the presence of a virus in a community and help public health officials mitigate the spread.

You can see the city’s current COVID-19 sewage charts via Verily Public Health at this link.

The other “main” indicator to add to LDCPH updates is syndromic surveillance, “which is a fancy term that refers to emergency room visits,” Smith said. “If people have been aware of the weekly RSV/flu updates that we have been doing for a while, they will have seen this type of data used before.”

Here is an example of what they look like:

The December 30, 2022 update indicates that there have been increases in the percentage of patients who have had influenza (the blue line) and RSV (the orange line) during emergency department visits in recent weeks. The numbers have fallen for most patients, but for those aged 0-9, both percentages have increased in the most recent week shown on the graph.

“The syndromic surveillance data will be presented as a line graph, so some people might instinctively assume it’s a replacement for the big yellow graph, but the information it contains is much less encompassing, n ‘showing only the number of COVID positive people in the ER,’ Smith said. “This is a much smaller sample that will not reflect overall levels of COVID, but may hint at increased rates across the community.”

There will be two familiar sources of information always included in updates: hospitalizations and deaths.

Both are called “lagging” indicators: “Because these are COVID results, they will not allow people to proactively change their behavior out of caution, but they will indicate the severity of the current COVID situation,” said Smith.

As for the large yellow graph that shows the average number of new cases over 14 days, LDCPH will no longer receive this data. It’s now being routed to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, so the change is largely based on practical necessity, Smith said.

“Due to a range of other factors such as home testing, widespread vaccination and an increase in individual knowledge about pandemic precautions, we also believe now is a good time to continue to reduce the amount of granular information we release,” he added.

LDCPH will also stop using its own transmission indicator, which was based on metrics generated by this moving average, and will instead rely on indicators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and KDHE, Smith said.

“Our indicator has been in the ‘LOW’ category for some time, and the CDC indicator also has Douglas County listed as ‘LOW,’ while KDHE has listed us as ‘Substantial,'” Smith continued. “The three indicators use different metrics to determine levels, so they’re not directly comparable, but we think presenting the KDHE and CDC levels will do the best job of reflecting where we are as a county.”

To receive email updates from LDCPH, sign up at this link.

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Mackenzie Clark (her), journalist/founder of the Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more about his work for The Times here. Check out his staff biography here.

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