CDC Case Report Data for COVID-19: Characterizing the Pandemic with Limited Information
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Nationwide standardized surveillance of COVID-19 using the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC)'s COVID-19 case report forms could yield invaluable information on disease burden and the nature of virus transmission. If respondents provided comprehensive responses to the form’s queries, public health officials, policymakers, and business leaders would have a wealth of data when making critical decisions on where to direct testing and treatment resources, and how to conduct safe reopenings. We obtained CDC case reports through July 19, 2020 through an expedited Freedom of Information Act request. We examined data from May 5 through July 19 to determine completeness of CDC case counts relative to more accurate counts reported by the New York Times (NYT). We found that the CDC’s case reports contained surprisingly incomplete information relative to the amount that the agency’s official form was intended to collect. Only seven states had sufficient data to characterize cases by ethnicity or race, or exposure type. People age 20 to 39 accounted for more COVID-19 cases than their share of the population. The most infections for all ages tended to occur during the third time period (June 24 through July 19) in our sample. White people were infected in proportion to their share of the population, while Hispanic cases were overrepresented. The most common sources of exposure were workplaces and households.