For example, Florida, which last week accounted for more than 20 percent of Covid-19 cases reported in the United States, has reduced its case reporting to once a week and no longer shares testing data or deaths broken down by county. The C.D.C. has a map that shows a summary of Covid-19 data for the nation, but it is less detailed than what states have typically reported.
At this stage of the pandemic, state and local governments should present more data, not less. At a minimum, they should publish the frequency and demographic breakdown of cases, tests, hospitalizations and deaths, as well as vaccinations. And they should do so daily.
County-level data is useful, but ZIP code or census tract level data is even better. Los Angeles County, for example, has been able to vaccinate more than 70 percent of eligible adults, but this statistic hides the fact that some parts of the county have much lower vaccination coverage. Highly localized data will help people understand the specific risks where they live and work and the need for mask recommendations more clearly.
At the same time, health officials should continue to provide data that shows the benefits of vaccines. Without it, experts might inadvertently send the signal that masks are a suitable alternative to getting a vaccine. Breakdowns of cases and hospitalizations by vaccination status should be regularly reported. This will also help experts monitor how well the vaccines are continuing to prevent severe illness.
When can masks come off?
Local experts should provide people with metrics they are using — like infections or vaccinations — to decide when masks will no longer be needed. Doing so underscores why the masks are back in the first place and provides hope for those who don’t like to wear them.
Since vaccines offer durable protection against serious illness, tying masking requirements to reasonable vaccination coverage goals and acceptable hospitalizations levels will provide a clearer view of progress than case numbers, which can fluctuate.
Everyone is weary of the pandemic. Vaccines offer the way out, but the United States has not convinced enough Americans of this. The nation cannot simply revert to the broad tactics employed during previous surges and expect compliance. It must be made explicitly clear to the public how measures like mask mandates will cut transmission and can be used to incentivize vaccinations.