For more than two years, a team from ZEIT ONLINE has collected reports on cases of corona infection and deaths attributable to Covid-19 several times a day on the 400 websites of the responsible districts. We will stop this work on June 13th. In future we will use the corresponding figures from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI). We are still updating the Corona dashboard on the ZEIT ONLINE homepage and our corresponding articles – just with a different data source. Here we explain why we decided to take this step.
In the beginning there was no official data
As the first German medium, ZEIT ONLINE showed a map with daily updated corona numbers on the homepage from February 26, 2020. At this point in time, there was no central data offer from an official body. We researched each case ourselves, by calling the RKI or reports from local media.
Gradually, the RKI published more and more of its own figures on the pandemic. Nevertheless, we continued to expand our data collection. Together with the freelance journalists René Engmann and Matthias Kreienbrink, we developed a process with which we were able to map the infection process more up-to-date and precisely than would have been possible with the RKI data. Because they showed a significant delay in reporting, especially on weekends and public holidays. The urban and rural districts often reported earlier.
Data collection by the RKI has improved
Today, more than two years later, the situation has changed. The reporting channels between laboratories, health authorities and the RKI have been significantly improved. Instead of faxing, most laboratories now report positive PCR results digitally to the health department. The RKI also makes the data transparent and accessible to everyone in machine-readable form via the Github platform.
At the same time, the health authorities are prioritizing the legally mandatory reporting to the RKI before publication on their own website. The speed advantage that we previously had through research directly at the authorities is lost as a result. In addition, there are more and more late reports, which distort the incidences accordingly. Some offices even stopped reporting completely on their websites. The daily data also tend to fade into the background. It makes more sense to look at the weekly average. Therefore, we only show these in our visualizations.
The meaning of the number of cases has changed
And the meaning of the various metrics has also changed over the course of the pandemic. For a long time, the most important indicator was the seven-day incidence – i.e. the number of new infections reported per 100,000 inhabitants within one week. It is the first to show when the number of infections is increasing in a region. But because a large part of the population has now been vaccinated, fewer people than all those infected become seriously ill. At the same time, the federal states have restricted access to PCR tests, which is why a smaller proportion of infections are statistically recorded at all.
Incidence remains important, primarily as an early warning indicator. However, in order to get a comprehensive picture of the current corona situation, the number of hospital admissions and the number of patients in the intensive care unit must also be considered. Therefore, we are now concentrating on keeping an eye on all key figures at once for all visualizations in our dashboard and in articles.
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