Linguistics Professor Crunches Local Data to Chart New COVID-19 Cases
Wednesday, November 25, 2020
Wednesday, November 25, 2020
Over the summer, Joe Pater, professor and chair of the Department of Linguistics, decided to analyze local COVID-19 data when It became apparent there would need to be decisions made for his child regarding the upcoming school year. A resident of Northampton, Mass., he took raw data released by the state and began to chart new case rates for Hampshire County since the beginning of the pandemic. Alarmed by the steep increase in new cases this fall, and the lack of attention being paid to the data, Pater wrote an article entitled "Western Massachusetts counties now have their highest numbers of new Covid-19 cases since the spring (And why are you learning about that here?)." He posted this article on his blog and circulated it informally. It was cited in a recent Daily Hampshire Gazette article that discusses the increase of COVID-19 cases in Hampshire County, and he appeared this morning on WHMP’s Bill Newman Show to discuss his work.
On the popular local news radio show, Pater—who stresses that he is not a public health researcher or official—discussed his motivation to begin this endeavor. “It shouldn’t be necessary for me to do this,” says Pater, who decided to crunch the numbers from the Massachusetts Department of Health website because he “couldn’t find longitudinal new case rates for [Hampshire] county elsewhere.”
Pater’s graph shows that “Cases have been shooting up locally.” He notes that this is a dramatic shift from mid-September when one week saw only 7 new cases reported in Hampshire County. In the week ending Nov. 25th, 232 confirmed cases were reported, down just slightly from the all-time high of 249 in the weeks ending Nov. 18th and 19th.
Pater points out that Dr. Joanne Levin, an infectious disease doctor who works at Northampton’s Cooley Dickinson Hospital and is quoted alongside him in the Gazette, has observed an increase in both COVID-19 inpatients and positive cases that come through the hospital’s drive-thru testing site. “We’re seeing clusters [of positive cases] where people are crowded together indoors, and we really started seeing this as the weather got colder a few weeks ago,” Levin is quoted as saying. The Gazette article goes on to explain that Levin reiterates that transmission increases when people socialize indoors. Currently available information about the sources of local increase is limited because, as Pater points out, “we don’t have public releases of contact tracing data” for Hampshire county.
Pater notes stark differences between how information is presented in Kingston, Ontario, where his extended family is based (and even in nearby upstate New York, according to what he hears on WAMC based in Albany, N.Y.), and Hampshire County. “The fact that [Hampshire County health] boards are town- and city-based, and that Kingston’s serves a population of about that of Hampshire County, presumably also contributes to the differences in the quality of the reporting” he notes.
In his blog, he makes a plea for better state and federal support of the local public health system. In the Gazette article that reports his observation of record high new case numbers, he says, “It shouldn’t be me telling you this … It should be the public health officers.”
Shortly after his appearance on the Bill Newman Show, Pater learned that an interactive county-level new case graph is now available on the New York Times website. He indicates that he will no longer be updating the graph on his blog.