The Health 202: Only North Dakota and Kentucky meet federal criteria to reopen, new coronavirus tracker finds

Former health wonks from the Obama and Trump administrations are color-coding all 50 states to indicate how well they’re combating the novel coronavirus.

The bad news: Only North Dakota and Kentucky are “green,” indicating they have met the Trump administration’s criteria for starting to end shutdowns, according to the new site, North Dakota began reopening on May 1; Kentucky is starting to reopen next week.

The slightly better news: 30 states are “yellow,” indicating progress is being made.

The remaining 18 states are “red,” with a long way to go before they meet the standards the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend for a safe reopening.

The project’s creators aim to provide a central clearinghouse of state coronavirus information.
Governors, facing intense economic and political pressure, are undertaking the exceedingly tricky task of figuring out how and when to end lockdowns. The website’s creators hope their data crunch and visualization will help policymakers and regular Americans get a better sense of how states are progressing toward the ultimate goal of safely ending the lockdowns that have resulted in massive unemployment and deep revenue losses for states.

The website pulls data on coronavirus testing, confirmed cases and deaths from the COVID Tracking Project and data on hospital capacity and influenza-like illness from the CDC.

“It’s supposed to be the progress bar for the country,” Ryan Panchadsaram, former deputy chief technology officer at the Department of Health and Human Services, told me.

Panchadsaram partnered with the groups United States of Care and Resolve to Save Lives, along with the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, on the project. The organizers, some of whom worked together on fixing during its flubbed rollout in 2013, spent the last few weeks pulling the data and organizing it into readable charts that allow states to be compared across a variety of metrics.

The data include several key metrics for reopening laid out by the CDC and the White House.
The CDC says that a state should see a “sustained reduction” of confirmed infections within a 14-day period before “proceeding to a phased comeback.” Or, testing should be ramped up enough that states should reduction in positive tests as a percentage of total daily tests.

The new website details how confirmed new cases are trending and how many tests out of total tests are showing up positive. But because the officially released federal guidance is still vague, the creators had to make a number of their own calls about when to award a state red, yellow or green in particular categories.

For example, a state gets a green rating if its daily confirmed cases have decreased more than 5 percent during the previous 14-day period. The rating is yellow if there’s less than a 5 percent change in either direction. And it’s red if the cases increase more than 5 percent.

To make those calculations, the creators used the seven-day average of confirmed cases — a practice that helps smooth out the data and shows trends better than relying on incremental changes every day.

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