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Texas Medical Center debuts real-time data in tracking COVID-19 in Houston area

HOUSTON – Building on seven months of extensive data gathering, analysis and publication, the Texas Medical Center is updating its public dashboards to provide user-friendly information in tracking COVID-19 in greater Houston.

The dashboard highlights the reproduction rate (rate at which COVID-19 is being spread), testing trends, number of overall positive cases, and ICU bed capacity, among other topics. KPRC 2 uses this information to keep news reports up-to-date for the nine counties the TMC serves.

“There is no delay in the TMC data so when you look at testing data, positivity rate, people being hospitalized, you’re getting real-time data,” said Dr. Mark Boom, with Houston Methodist Hospital.

The change to the dashboard gives a clearer picture of what’s happening in Houston, which is beneficial since the state’s calculations can lag by several weeks. Therefore, it’s difficult to identify when exactly a spike or decrease in cases happened.

President and CEO of TMC, Bill McKeon, said the real-time data shows proof when social distancing has worked.

“We’ve seen this when we were in April and May and the mask order came, you can see a direct causal relationship between those decisions made by our leaders and a direct correlation to the data dropping off. Mask wearing, huge implication, and so it usually takes about two weeks for anything to happen with opening up or putting in mask orders," McKeon said. “You see it in our data, you see it in the testing, you see it in the hospitalizations so we really hope, if it were up to us (and it’s not), that you approach it just like a scientist would when you have multiple variables. That you open one aspect of the economy, you watch it for several weeks before you make a decision to do another because only then you can see the direct causal relationship of that action and the impact on our community and our patients and our hospitals.”

The good news is these numbers show Houston has recently had a flat rate.

That comes with a warning from Baylor College of Medicine Dr. Paul Klotman, “I’ve said this to anyone who will listen, if you see a business or a place that looks like it’s pre-COVID, don’t go in there! That is just crazy."

McKeon said to continue with health precautions and prepare for a long winter and spring. Even with a vaccine, 60-70% of people would need to be vaccinated to really get control of the virus and it will take a while (maybe into the third quarter of 2021) to get that many people vaccinated.