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Why We’re Changing Our New York City COVID Tracker

THE CITY’s tool has morphed a lot in the past three years of the virus crisis, and we updated it again to be more reliable.

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People wait for a COVID test outside Brooklyn Borough Hall, Dec. 20, 2021.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

For more than three years, THE CITY has tracked vital measurements of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City.

Our information page, Coronavirus in New York City, began in the bewildering early weeks of the crisis. Readers quickly came to rely on it to see how the virus was moving across the five boroughs. Over time, we added other metrics, including the number of COVID patients in hospital intensive care units, and numbers of vaccine and booster shots.

But the pandemic has changed, and so has the available data on it. New York state, for example, reports positive COVID tests from clinical settings only — leaving out the vast number of positive results from tests conducted at home. Meanwhile, independent efforts to track COVID from organizations like the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center and The New York Times ceased earlier this year. That leaves the federal Centers for Disease Control’s COVID Data Tracker.

At THE CITY, we still see the need for a New York City-specific view of the pandemic, but the granular view presented in earlier versions of the tracker is no longer reliable. So we’re updating the tracker once again to align it with the most accurate and useful information available. 

To do so, THE CITY spoke with Dr. Jay Varma, the former senior advisor for public health to Mayor Bill de Blasio, Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, professor of health policy and management at CUNY’s School of Public Health, and Dr. Celine Gounder, a professor at New York University who served on President Joe Biden’s COVID advisory board. 

Here’s what we changed:

  • We are no longer showing testing data, including the number of tests or positivity rate. The state Department of Health doesn’t report home tests and can only calculate positivity rates based on PCR tests. But with so many people testing at home, these metrics are no longer accurate indicators of the virus’s spread. 
  • We are no longer presenting readers with maps and charts showing case rate by ZIP code, since that data, too, is based on a small fraction of overall tests.
  • We will continue to show the overall cases reported, but with the substantial caveat that this figure is based only on PCR and antigen test data collected by the state from clinical settings. It may indicate a broadly directional trajectory, but should not be taken as an accurate count of cases in NYC at any given time.

Update Sept. 11, 2023: The day after we revised our COVID tracker, the New York state Department of Health ceased reporting case numbers. We’ve kept overall cases reported through August 2023 for historical purposes.

  • We will still show hospitalization rates, ICU capacity and deaths from COVID — all pieces of data that remain accurate and good indicators of the virus’s spread, according to experts.
  • You will still see vaccination rates in the tracker, with a new update: We have added a tracker for the most recent bivalent booster, specifically, and plan to include a separate section for the new COVID booster when it becomes available in the fall of 2023.

We hope the changes to THE CITY’s Coronavirus in New York resource makes it more useful and accurate as you navigate life in New York.

If you have a question, comment or concern about the newly revamped tracker, drop us a line at ask@thecity.nyc with the subject line “Tracker.”

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