'Snapshot in time:' Sorting through the daily numbers on COVID-19 can be confusing

MILWAUKEE -- There is an overwhelming amount of information out there about COVID-19. So which numbers should you pay attention to -- and what data is missing?

It only takes a few seconds to give you Wisconsin's daily COVID-19 highlights. But it takes hours to go through all the data that is out there. The data includes items such as:

    So how do you sort through it all without getting lost in a sea of graphs?

    Dominique Brossard

    "Too much information without enough context is worse than not enough information at all," said Dominique Brossard, chair of the Department of Life Sciences Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    Brossard teaches risk communication at UW. She said the total number of positive cases is not very helpful on its own.

    But know we have detected 10,700 cases, roughly two percent of Wisconsin's population since March 15, gives us a better idea of what is going on.

    "We need to think about why do we need these numbers? What do we want to get out of it? Is it something that shows us the progression of the disease? Is it something that shows us if we're ready to open the economy and so on?" Brossard said.

    Brossard praises the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS)red light/green light gating criteria because it is easy to understand and offers a clear idea of where we are going. But she said we should be careful with numbers showing PPE supply, available ventilators, and even COVID-19 hospitalizations.

    "Having a snapshot in time without any frame of reference is not very useful," Brossard said.

    What about the models -- the predictions of what COVID-19 will do that always feel like they are changing?

    "They're supposed to change," Brossard said.

    It is like a different model FOX6 News viewers are used to seeing -- weather models. Both predictions are made based on lots of variables. When a variable changes, so can the prediction.

    COVID-19 prediction models are in some ways similar to weather models.

    "The idea of a model is actually knowing what we know today. Can we predict what's going to happen in a week? But then, imagine we are at tomorrow. we have more data than we had yesterday. And then the model evolves," Brossard said.

    That is why it will not do much good to sit there and hit refresh on all those COVID-19 dashboards. You are better off following a few key data points -- and of course, a news source you trust.