State health department changes model for sharing virus information


Clark County health officials are not providing regular updates on COVID-19 activity in the county, which they have made for more than two years, following a change in the Washington State Department of Health’s reporting on infectious diseases.

On Sept. 14, Clark County Public Health announced it would not make weekly updates on COVID-19. The decision was based on changes at the state level when the DOH retired its COVID-19 data dashboard.

The retirement of the dashboard wasn’t a surprise to Clark County Public Health, department spokesperson Marissa Armstrong said in an email. The county department knew the change was coming, as the DOH moved to a broader respiratory illness dashboard also featuring influenza and respiratory syncytial virus.

The specifics of the data in the new dashboard weren’t known before it was released, however. Unlike the previous dashboard exclusively for COVID-19, the new one is not broken down at a county-by-county level and, instead, presents information based on region.

Clark County Public Health relied on the dashboard for its seven-day rates of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Armstrong said. The county department also used data from the state’s database to compile other information included in its regular updates.

The change at the state level has the county health department considering what information it puts out to the public.

“We’re using this pause as an opportunity to evaluate what data is most useful for community members — what data can we provide to help community members make decisions about how to protect their own health and the health of their loved ones,” Armstrong said in an email.

Clark County Public Health intends to provide weekly updates during respiratory illness season, she said. The data will focus on hospitalization and emergency department data.

Armstrong said the DOH has provided Clark County Public Health with data specific to Clark County. The county department plans on embedding that modified dashboard on its website and use it for the new version of weekly illness updates.

The pause came after a general upward trend in COVID-19 activity in the county. The last available update from Sept. 7 showed a slight decline in the recent case rate of COVID-19 after increases in August. At that time, Clark County Public Health reported 34.5 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 of the population, more than three times the rate reported at the end of July.

Clark County Public Health began daily updates on COVID-19 activity shortly after the first cases in the county were reported in March 2020. The department shifted to a weekly update schedule in mid-2021, which it maintained until the pause in that reporting this month.

Though the department has scaled back the amount of data included in its weekly updates in the past year, Clark County Public Health continued to hear from the community that having a regular report was valuable, Armstrong said. Website and social media analytics supported the assertion that people were still actively seeking the data.

The new DOH dashboard can be viewed at ditions/communicable-dis ease-surveillance-data/respira tory-illness-data-dashboard.