Seven types of data guiding COVID-19 decision-making as we move from response to recovery
The rate of spread of COVID-19 varies from state to state, with some successfully flattening the curve while others still await peak infection levels. As governors wrestle with how and when to begin reopening businesses and easing shelter-in-place orders, they must lean on reliable, accurate, and timely data to take decisive action that will ultimately determine the effects on the economy and public health.
The difficult decisions governors make must balance the current health threat and potential for future COVID-19 flare-ups with the extreme economic impacts on business and citizens. Those decisions impact the way resources are allocated, which businesses are reopened, who goes back to work and the ability to anticipate and even prevent a repeat of the crisis in the future. Perhaps most importantly, those decisions may determine how drastic and lasting the effects of the pandemic will be on each state’s economy now and moving forward.
To make these decisions effectively, governors will have to tangle with questions like: Who is sick? What are the current and future resource gaps? Where should I allocate precious state and federal support resources? Where and how might the virus spread next? Which communities are in greatest distress? Is there potential for crime, and where is it taking place? Who is unemployed, and where do they live? Which industry sectors of my state have been hit most drastically, or represent a disproportionate share of the unemployment uptick? Are there policy measures I can take specifically aimed at the hardest-hit areas of the economy?
Our nation’s governors have access to data to help answer these questions and provide a better understanding of the health of their communities. Unfortunately, the lightweight dashboards most have available were built for other purposes, and cannot integrate and synthesize all of the available and relevant data in a timely manner to facilitate a meaningful and nimble response. They also lack the predictive, simulation and at-scale data analysis capabilities required to truly enhance decision-making.
There are seven critical categories of data that dashboards must incorporate to deliver optimal situational awareness, drawing from state agencies and local governments. By aggregating this data to provide insights on the trajectory of the virus, complemented by the counsel of public health experts, governors will have the best, most accurate information available to inform the monumental decisions that are being made to keep people safe and restart the economy.
Public health data: Leaders need to have quick access to the latest tally of confirmed cases and recoveries in their own states, as well as neighboring states and population centers, broken down by demographics. That information is essential to inform policies on closings and other preventive measures, and when to augment or reverse them. Sharing this information widely allows residents to stay informed about which communities are at risk and which are most disproportionately impacted. The transparency of this data lets residents and policymakers alike take proper precautionary measures within their district, lowering the risk that the virus will spread further or return later in the year.
Medical resources: Aside from tracking the scope of the disease itself, having access to data on the medical personnel and resources available to treat the spread of the virus is perhaps just as important. This information includes the number and location of clinicians, current stocks of critical medical equipment such as masks and ventilators, and where those supplies are needed most. Some states and communities have not seen the worst yet. Access to this data, along with forecasting abilities, can lessen the potential for supply shortages at hospitals and care facilities in critical need.
Employment and wage data: Stay-at-home restrictions and closing of all but essential businesses have pushed unemployment claims to new heights. Claims data reveals where, who and what industries have been most affected by the crisis. Complemented by wage data, leaders can gain a clear view of the health or stress of specific areas, which helps guide decisions on where to ease restrictions and direct support and stimulus money.
Social benefit data: The other side of the unemployment data coin is social benefits data. With widespread unemployment, millions more families are in need of help. Enrollment data from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid show the extent to which citizens are struggling to meet financial and medical needs, and to put food on the table. This helps leaders understand which communities are most desperate for help and where economic and stimulus support is needed most urgently.
Personal financial distress indicators: Unemployment and social benefit data are not the only indicators that citizens are in trouble financially. Delinquent utility account data can serve as a proxy measure of financial distress. A spike in the number of delinquent water or electric bills in a given community is a sign that people are having to sacrifice basic expenses to scrape by. Additionally, business and personal bankruptcy filing data is useful in revealing where the current crisis is hitting hardest, but also provides a glimpse into longer-term recovery challenges.
Tax collection and revenue data: Tax collection data from key revenue sources can serve as indicators of economic and employment strife. For instance, employer withholding data is a bellwether of overall employment activity. Additionally, sales tax receipts and even gas tax data show trends in spending, economic activity and mobility in a given community.
Banking system data: Whether the end of the economic downturn mirrors the public health recovery or becomes a full-blown recession remains to be seen. However, data from financial institutions can serve as leading indicators for decision-makers. Uniform Bank Performance Reports from the FDIC show trends in the stability of federally chartered banks and credit unions. Bank and credit union health reports from state banking regulators reveal the stability of state-chartered financial institutions. A strong financial system will be critical to powering a nationwide recovery.
These seven types of data allow governors to take a proactive approach in this transition from response to recovery and should be the core of how governors make informed public health and economic decisions today and tomorrow.
In the midst of a situation like COVID-19 that changes by the hour, governors must have reliable information when they make decisions that profoundly change the lives of their citizens. Data, when managed appropriately, can measure community health, quality of life and economic impact of the virus and related policies. By aggregating this data into digestible data dashboards, governors can remain up-to-date and access valuable projections on the health, prosperity and safety of those they were elected to serve.
Grant Brooks is the vice president, U.S. public sector, at SAS