MIT Sloan Health Systems Initiative

Research Update: States’ Reporting Delays of COVID 19 Data

Update: States’ Reporting Delays of COVID 19 Data Can Lead to Misguided Policy Decisions

Fax machine

Prof. Catherine Tucker, along with PhD student Yifei Wang, are leading a research team investigating the effect of reporting delays on COVID recommendations and policies. While there may be several reasons for reporting delays, Tucker is focusing on states’ reliance on fax-based reporting. 

In the previous update, Tucker reported that the delay matters because reporting delays lead to incorrect, ineffective policy decisions to appropriately address the spread of the pandemic. She concludes that if adjustments were made to correct for reporting delays, several major policies would be different.

Since then, Tucker has strengthened the analytic model by adding data sources, such as wastewater data. Policies that the original model suggested are now more emphatically recommended. For example, with the initial correction for the delay, the model suggested that mask mandates were beneficial in hindering the spread of COVID. With the addition of the new sources (including wastewater data), that association is seen much more strongly.

More broadly, this research adds to the thinking about data management practices used to evaluate pandemic data and the harmful effect of antiquated and varied state reporting methods. In the future, these insights may also benefit research into data delays in other healthcare information systems.