Data drives decisions in public health, and especially at CDC. Good data across our nation’s public health system is critical. However, years of under-investment in our data have led to many places in America that remain underserved by public health. To respond, CDC is navigating the challenges of COVID-19 surveillance while at the same time improving the nation’s posture for the next public health emergency

Responding to COVID-19 requires many data sources to reveal the true picture of what is happening and drive public health action. No one data source gives CDC all the information that scientists and researchers need. CDC has been relying on many data sources, new and old, including data on cases, deaths, laboratory tests, emergency department visits, hospitalizations, hospital capacities, healthcare data, variants, vaccine administrations, surveys, cohort studies, serology studies, mobility data, and many more. Some of CDC’s data are reported to us from states while others CDC conducts through field-based studies.

The central challenge of public health is to take these vast data—delivered at different times, through different channels and intermediaries, and of different quality and completeness—and turn them into useful, actionable information to improve the nation’s response.

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Public health surveillance of COVID-19 works to advance eight core goals:

  • Monitor trends and intensity of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, identify outbreaks, and provide data to initiate case and contact investigations
  • Understand disease severity and the spectrum of illness
  • Monitor and track vaccine distribution, uptake, and effectiveness
  • Describe risk factors for severe disease and transmission
  • Monitor for variants
  • Assess impact on health care systems
  • Estimate disease burden, and forecast trends, impact, and clinical and public health needs
    Monitor impact of disease and interventions on health equity

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