Tuesday, March 31: What a (data) dump

The first NY opinion poll of the post-pandemic era has been conducted by Siena College. President Cuomo’s approval ratings are sky-high, not just throughout the nation of New York, but the rest of the known world. Upstaters have high confidence in their local leaders and county health officials, and are wildly enthusiastic about Cuomo’s COVID-19 leadership (85%, virtually on par with other regions of the state), though not quite so enthusiastic about him generally (61%, although that figure seems way generous and must also be tilted by the current situation). 

If only we had as much neatly collated data on the actual COVID situation throughout the state, as we do about which politicians are perceived to be doing something about COVID.  This isn’t something we can pin on any individual, but it still sucks.  So there’s this basic stats tracker from syracuse.com, It can give you basic numbers, but when it comes to deciphering anything beyond “Lots of Tests Are a Good Thing,” we’re all out of luck. There isn’t even any regional consistency in who should, or even can, be tested. In a county like Onondaga, where everyone seems to be playing on the same team and testing is copious, the consensus on how to report the results subtly changes by the day. (We now have a new and improved metric, “Active cases”.)  Elsewhere, in places where county and city officials obviously don’t get along, there is controversy and bad blood that absolutely is not needed at a time like this.

Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist is calling for transparency after Friday’s Chautauqua County press conference, which did not reveal where the latest coronavirus cases were located. On Saturday he issued this statement: “As more COVID-19 cases are confirmed in Chautauqua County, I recognize the need to provide accurate and timely communications to our residents. The health and well-being of our citizens is a top priority for my administration. I want to remind residents that the Chautauqua County Health Department, the lead agency for the COVID-19 response, has not publicly confirmed any positive cases in the City of Jamestown. My office is aware of social media posts and other conversations regarding potential cases.”

Chautauqua County officials were unimpressed. The New York Times speaks for many of these officials when pondering the privacy implications of more granular data.

We have so many fantastic data visualization tools now — like this one that (“anonymously”) tracks cell phone signals of Spring Breakers from one Fort Lauderdale beach as they spread plague across the rest of the country.  (Although not really up here, where students were told not to come back. Whew.)

But we’ve had decades of this beautiful gee-whiz from the tech bros — and now, in a crisis, we have nothing to show for it. Because there hasn’t been any culture of public health; no statewide standards that could fill in for guidance from the AWOL CDC; no coordination between cities and counties, no connection between neighboring regions, no commitment between upstate and downstate.   Maybe we should just issue smart thermometers to everyone and hope for the best. “Take everyone’s temperature, let God sort it out.”