Data Update Methodology

Massachusetts Reporting Change November 6, 2020

Charlie’s done it again. It is becoming increasingly clear that one way to fight the pandemic in Massachusetts is to move the goalposts if the numbers are worsening.  (This is a variant of the idea that if you pretend there is no coronavirus, then there is no coronavirus.  Here’s looking at you, lame duck president). 

That can be done in several ways. First, stop reporting a measure if it doesn’t look as good as it did previously. For example: drop suspected cases from the count of patients in the hospital, in the ICU, or intubated. That way, you can make the increase in the number of hospitalizations look smaller.  Or hide statistics on the test positivity rate based on individuals, not tests.

Here’s another idea: change the way a particular statistic is measured to make things look better. The latest example: the color coding system used to define risk levels across communities in the state. The state has redefined the four risk-level color codes (red, yellow, green, and grey) so that it is much more difficult for a community to fall into the red (riskiest) zone, even as cases and test positivity increase rapidly.

Table 1 is a comparison of the community level data through October 31 (the latest data available) showing the difference between the old and new coding systems.


Table 1: Comparison of Old and New Community Color Coding
City and Town Data Two Weeks Ending October 31,2020
Measure Red Yellow Green Grey
Old Coding % of State Population
71% 21% 3% 5%
New Coding % of State Population
15% 47% 28% 11%
Old Coding Number of Cities/Towns 155 67 9 120
New Coding Number of Cities/Towns 16 91 79 165


For example,  71% of the state’s population would be living in cities or towns coded at the highest risk level) if the state were still reporting using the old system.  This is 155 out of the 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth.  But redefine the color codes, and presto, only 15% of the population in 16 cities and towns are in the red zone.  Under the old criteria, only 8% of the population is now living in cities and towns classified as green or grey (the lowest risk level).  But under the new system, 37% of the population lives in those low-risk communities.

We get it Charlie –  you want to get students back into the classroom.  But why not make your case with consistent measures of community risk over time? And while I’m at it, the travel restrictions are a joke.  Only travelers from other states with case rates of fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 people per day are exempt from a 14 day quarantine on arrival in Massachusetts (not that anybody is taking this seriously anyway). This is from a state that has a case rate of over 15 cases per 100,000 people per day.  Huh?

3 replies on “Massachusetts Reporting Change November 6, 2020”

Each time they move the goalposts, the public thinks the state is doing great and points to the new numbers as evidence. It’s a circular Covid firing squad borne of shifting data sets resulting in ignorance of the facts. In many cases, I can’t even blame the public. They truly don’t know any better because they see the ridiculous 1.8% as evidence the state is doing fine. Insanity. And thank you once again.

Thank you so much, as always. I’ve been suspecting this, and have certainly noticed the absence of the per person rate, but this drives it all home so clearly. Are you calling out the administration on these numbers? I feel as though somebody needs to answer this. A 10:00 ‘curfew’ isn’t going to cut it. And without the urgency of the real data, the mask wearing ‘mandate’ and other cautions are less likely to be successful.

Leave a Reply