With the end of the public health emergency, the federal government plans to replace some of its COVID-19 data tracking methods with new surveillance that it says will keep healthcare providers informed about disease trends and prepared for outbreaks.

While most COVID-19 surveillance data sources will continue to be available after the PHE ends, national reporting of certain categories of COVID-19 public health surveillance data will be transitioned to other data sources or be discontinued, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This includes COVID-19 community levels (CCL), which long-term care facilities have used to determine transmission risk along with the cadence of viral testing and other mitigation measures. 

CCL relied in part on aggregate case rates, which some jurisdictions may no longer report after the PHE ends. 

“[T]he end of the public health emergency means that CDC will have less authority to collect certain types of public health data,” said Brendan Jackson, MD, head of CDC’s COVID-19 response, in a May 5 briefing. Although that means less data will be available to federal health agencies, “we will have good sightlines into COVID-19,” he added. 

With this future dearth of data in sight, the CDC studied potential backup sources. Based on a study, its researchers have found that hospital admission data will be a strong indicator of COVID-19 status at the local level, Nirav Shah, MD, principal deputy director, said in the same briefing. “In short, we will still be able to tell that it’s snowing, even though we’re no longer counting every snowflake.”

In addition to this hospital data, the CDC will now rely on percentages of positive test results, COVID-19 emergency department visits and COVID-19 deaths. All of these were found to be “suitable and timely indicators of trends in COVID-19 activity and severity,” according to the study, published this week in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The agency details these and other sources of continuing COVID-19 surveillance data in a May 5 report.

As COVID-19 response is downgraded from pandemic emergency to public health priority,  “We have the right data for this phase of COVID-19,” Shah said.

In related news, the CDC has also this year established the Coronavirus and Other Respiratory Viruses Division, which works with states and other U.S. jurisdictions on COVID-19 prevention. The division, within the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, also monitors other circulating respiratory viruses such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, and supports prevention measures, including immunization.

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