A better Covid-19 metric

Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic started, most places in the world have been tracking and reporting a count of new daily cases diligently.

By now, most of us know that new-cases-per-day, as a metric, is woefully simplistic. For one, it neglects base rate – 4000 new cases mean very different things for a country like India and one like Singapore. Secondly, it neglects fluctuations due to reporting. The German public uses a better metric: 7-day-incidence. This metric is a count of new cases reported over a week per a 100,000 people. It includes a base rate and smoothens the curve over a weekly period.

7-day-incidence isn’t a complicated metric – a 7th standard student can calculate and comprehend it with ease. Yet, most parts of the world, including the World Health Organization, persist in using an inferior metric to track the world’s deadliest recorded pandemic. Continuing to merely report new-cases-per-day is also an insult to the common person’s intelligence and indicates that we aren’t taking the pandemic seriously enough.

Our metrics need to be simple enough for us to understand. But they also need to mirror real-world complexity. With tracking Covid-19 cases, we have leaned too far on the side of simplicity.

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