Is reopening Massachusetts really driven by public health data?

Today’s much anticipated Reopening Massachusetts presentation has a page entitled, “Reopening will be driven by public health data.” But look critically at the dashboard and you’ll see that some rows must be missing.

Not ready for prime time

There are six indicators. Two are green (positive trend) and four are yellow (no real trend). None are red (negative trend). But even the two green ones are not that reassuring:

  • COVID-19 positive test rate is a reasonable indicator. All else being equal, a drop means less COVID-19 in the community. But if testing is expanded beyond people who are obviously sick, you’d expect the percent positive to drop. The metric I’d really like to see is No new cases
  • Testing capacity is also shown as green. But weirdly, the previous slide (which will be the subject of a subsequent post) seems to show we are only using one third of the available capacity, despite the fact that testing is not widely available.

Looking at the dashboard you’d see it’s not time to move forward. So what else is going on?

There must be considerations beyond public health, such as:

  • Financial stress on individuals, businesses and state and local governments
  • Political pressure
  • Mental health concerns
  • Societal resilience

You can see some of this in the reopening plan. For example:

  • Supposedly there shouldn’t be gatherings of more than 9 people, and yet religious services are allowed to restart now
  • Hair salons are reopening despite the impossibility of social distancing. Six-foot scissors, anyone?

I think it’s ok to show the extra rows on the dashboard and take everything into account more explicitly. It’s better than pretending they aren’t there.

By healthcare business consultant David E. Williams, president of Health Business Group with input from Surya Singh MD, president of Singh Healthcare Advisors.

May 18, 2020

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