Daily COVID-19 case counts and deaths have been a staple of news reports since the coronavirus pandemic began spreading in late 2019.

While it’s easy to get lost in the numbers, local experts said the numbers tell important stories that can help communities in the fight against COVID-19. Three experts gave insight into the data Tuesday during the online forum, “COVID Questions: By the Numbers.”

The event was presented by In This Together Cambria, a volunteer group engaged in advocacy, storytelling and sharing of information in order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Co-sponsors included The Tribune-Democrat and the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.

“With so much information circulating on social media, it can be difficult to gauge what is accurate, but numbers and raw data hardly ever tell a lie,” In This Together Cambria volunteer Tulsi Shrivastava said during the event.

“With accurate reporting we can combat the spread of misinformation on social media, we can better prepare health care workers and we can ensure that people understand the severity of COVID and understand the vaccine,” she said.

Shrivastava is a junior business intelligence analyst at Learning Sciences International and a 2019 graduate of Pitt-Johnstown with degrees in mathematics and information systems. She is a member of the Unity Coalition of the Southern Alleghenies.

Paul Ricci, a freelance statistician and Pennsylvania Highlands Community College faculty member, outlined the current situation and how Cambria County is doing with data he has been tracking since the pandemic hit the region in March.

Responding those comparing the flu to COVID-19, Ricci pointed out the death rate among those who are infected by COVID-19 has been 19 times the death rate for the flu, based on the last flu season.

“This is why it’s important to consider those rates,” he said.

In addition, COVID-19 spreads differently than the flu, said Jill Henning, a Pitt-Johnstown associate professor of biology.

Influenza’s incubation period is no more than about 18 hours, she explained. That’s the period between when someone is exposed to the virus and when they develop significant symptoms.

“Therefore, you know that you are sick and you stop seeing other people,” Henning said. “With COVID-19, it has a much longer incubation period. In fact, the incubation period can be anywhere between two and 14 days. So now we are talking about someone who could be presymptomatic spreading the virus between Day Two and the time they start showing symptoms and not knowing it.”

Cambria County is seventh in cases by population among Pennsylvania counties and fourth in deaths by population, Ricci said.

“The good news is, we also rank eighth highest in terms of full vaccinations,” Ricci said. “Currently we are at 1,578 full vaccines per 100,000. That means the individuals who have had both shots.”

The vaccine is crucial, Henning said.

She pointed to downplaying of the virus and unfounded concerns about the vaccine development.

“What we now need to see is a massive amount of national, state, local and regional leadership that will help to continue to talk about safety, efficacy and desperate need for the COVID-19 vaccine,” Henning said. “The best way to combat misinformation – wherever it’s coming from – is with education.”

Tuesday’s forum was hosted by Eric Sloss, Pitt-Johnstown executive director of communications, and moderated by Chip Minemyer, The Tribune-Democrat editor. The recording can be viewed on the In This Together Cambria Facebook page. 

Another installment of the COVID Questions series is scheduled for Feb. 9.

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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