Tag: CDC

Influenza Data

Scott hypothesized that 2020 should have a fairly low rate of illness apart from SARS-CoV-2. The preventative measures taken to limit the spread of this virus should also have reduced the number of people with colds, flu, etc. There’s no way to tell for mild illnesses, but I knew the CDC tracked flu and pneumonia cases … you can link the CDC’s CSV data sources into Excel, create a Pivot table to get rows of week numbers or months & columns of year-by-year case counts, then create a chart that compares case counts year-to-year. Unfortunately, they have a new file name each week. You’ve got to find the latest URL from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/index.htm

I was surprised to see 2020 significantly higher than the previous two years through the end of April and bumping back up again between weeks 26 and 27 (late June / early July)

Broken out by state and filtered to a few states to make the chart readable, I see the same trend. 2020 is generally higher than 2019 or 2018.

The significant increase in pneumonia deaths this year? That’s probably not people who actually had pneumonia completely unrelated to SARS-CoV-2. The influenza/pneumonia data set includes an “All Deaths” column — which depicts the excess deaths for 2020 (I assume the past month or so of data is not yet finalized, as thee numbers fall off sharply in the final weeks of the data set).


Hospitals have been instructed to provide SARS-CoV-2 data to HHS instead of CDC. CDC falls under HHS so it’s a little like having the “parent company” handle something some subsidiary used to do. Which means the move isn’t as alarming as some people are making it out to be. The ‘parent company’ will authority to more readily mobilize resources, and moving responsibility for a project to the parent company can signify the importance of the project.
Which isn’t to say I think it’s a good move … from an IT perspective, CDC has the infrastructure in place to handle the reporting & publicizing of data. About the best case would be a reorganization — same people supporting the same thing, but adding in the uncertainty of a new organizational structure (new processes, new priorities, a new person’s take on what you should be doing). If HHS is taking over that system, there’s opportunity for failure because the new people don’t know what the old people know. If HHS is bring up a new system, there’s a LOT of opportunity for failure because, well, it’s a new system. Mid-disaster isn’t when I’d want to change my reporting process. Maybe run two in parallel because the new one is going to provide some great new insights. But I would never say “hey, everyone, stop using A and move over to B on Thursday”.
Additionally, it doesn’t inspire confidence that the HHS website has been throwing a lot of connection errors since the announcement. I expect it’s a load problem as people begin to learn what HHS is … but ‘the guy who cannot keep his website online will be taking over statistics for us’ is not exactly the direction I’d move critical reporting.

Like in the movies

Every time I’ve watched a sci-fi movie where someone builds a robot that decides to annihilate humans, I wonder how the engineer missed out on the previous thousand movies where someone’s very good idea for a robot kills us all. I mean, sure it would be a really short movie if we pan into some lady sitting in a lab with a bunch of robotic bits spread out on a table and hear her say “Wait … I’ve seen Collossus: The Forbin Project … lets not do this”. And she shuts down the computer, shelves the components, turns the lights off, and goes home. But seriously, how could anyone about to install laser cannons on a drone not think “wait … “. Some movies address this with a four-laws derivative — I know the previous thousand robots went horribly awry, but here’s my idea at coding in guardrails.

Kind of think the same thing about zombie movies — the body of work tells you that really good precautions and quarantines are totally the way to go. But what happens IRL when there’s a contagious virus about? Exposed passengers from a cruise ship are flown back to the States. HHS’s welcome committee aren’t trained for infectious disease exposure and don’t kit up.