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Arizona's health department introduces changes to COVID data dashboard

Arizona’s health department released its  first weekly COVID-19 data report Wednesday. Before now, the Arizona Department of Health Services had been providing daily updates about new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, but the department  last month announced it would change its approach. 

“Weekly data is really what public health uses when we’re trying to establish what trends are for the basis of identifying whether we're heading up or down with COVID-19 burden in the state, and for any kind of recommendations that we would be making to the public,” said Jessica Rigler, assistant director for the division of public health preparedness with the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Wednesday's weekly summary shows Arizona has recently been averaging about 1,300 new COVID-19 cases per day — a roughly 90% decrease from early February. The update also shows the number of COVID-19 patients in Arizona hospitals has fallen to the lowest point since late July. About 13% of the state's inpatient beds are now occupied by COVID-19 patients, down from 39% at the peak of the omicron surge in late January. 

In Wednesday's update, the health department reports 449 COVID-19 deaths between Feb. 20 and 26. But one major change to the new reporting system is the way deaths are counted. A person’s death is now only added to the count four weeks after the person first tested positive for the virus.

"If there's an individual who passed away from COVID today and they had a very quick escalation of disease, so they tested positive two days ago," Rigler said, "it won't show up on our dashboard for another four weeks because their specimen collection date just occurred." 

Rigler said this delayed method of counting deaths is more consistent with the way the department tracks other diseases. 

The department is putting a similar two-week lag on numbers it adds to the  hospitalizations page of its dashboard. But Rigler noted the pages that track  hospital bed usage and  hospital metrics will be kept current in weekly reports. 

Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.