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COVID on the Cusp: Data for Good Research Expands as Pandemic Phase Ends

1 June 2023 No Comment

David CorlissDavid Corliss is the AVP Technical Expert in Data Science at General Motors OnStar Insurance. He also serves on the steering committee for the Conference on Statistical Practice and is the founder of Peace-Work.

Over the past year, the COVID-19 emergency has gradually moved from a pandemic to an endemic. The virus took many of us by surprise, but the scientific community’s response was overwhelming. Almost overnight, analytic teams sprang up to take on reporting COVID’s impact, understanding how it progressed, predicting its direction, and mitigating its effects. With the pandemic phase winding down, now is the time to act on what we have learned from this crisis—the Stats4Good top challenge in biostatistics for 2023.

Getting Involved
In opportunities this month, JSM is just around the corner. Take time to check out the program—even if you are not able to attend this year—to find the papers and researchers in your area of interest. Next month, Stats4Good will focus on JSM and highlight some of the outstanding papers, sessions, and events in Data for Good.

June also marks the start of the next round of Science and Technology Policy Fellowships from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

New science is driving opportunities for Data for Good practitioners to assess the ongoing effects of COVID on their area or research. As the public health emergency for COVID expires, the accompanying changes in public policy and practices make this a critical moment. The National Institutes of Health set up a COVID literature hub to help researchers find papers relevant to their work.

The D4G community has been active in all areas of COVID research. The constantly evolving nature of the virus has made longitudinal studies especially important. Practitioners have also been involved in capturing science developed during the pandemic and applying it to other areas of research.

An important aspect of COVID as a disease came more clearly into focus later in the pandemic. Long COVID, also known as post-COVID conditions, is defined by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “a wide range of new, returning, or ongoing health problems that people experience after being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.” Even as acute COVID-19 cases decline, long COVID is becoming a public health crisis.

Official recognition of long COVID as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act led to medical and legal guidance from the US Department of Health and Human Services, yet it remains an under-studied problem. Research is needed in prevalence, risk factors, clinical indicators, treatment strategies, longitudinal analysis, and more. This is one area in which D4G researchers are needed the most, and there is an abundance of opportunity to make important, meaningful progress.

More than two years ago, encouraging the D4G community to respond to vaccine hesitancy, I wrote about the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment causing so much distrust of vaccines that the “crime against humanity is still killing people today.” Data for Good researchers are now able to measure the entire magnitude of the entire range of COVID effects on economics, education, and society. Especially needed are local studies by people across the country on COVID where they live. Andrew Dumont at the Federal Reserve wrote an outstanding summary of local research that points the way for others.

Data resources for new COVID research include the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker. However, much of the pandemic response has happened at the local level. This makes data from county-level health departments the true source of most COVID data. Response at the local level has been highly variable, making meta-analysis of county-level data one of the most important methods of statistical research. In this case, the “random” variables—those that vary from place to place—need to be a primary focus, so they capture what we can learn from this pandemic to prepare for the next one.

All of us have a role to play in the future of this passing crisis. #DataForGood. Because you don’t have to wait until you die to donate your brain to science.

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