Expert tips for making sense of COVID-19 numbers, avoiding information overload

Posted at 9:46 PM, Oct 29, 2020

CINCINNATI — Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been no shortage of data shared on the virus. Experts say too much information, though shared in an effort to be transparent, can overwhelm people and cause “COVID-19 fatigue.”

Dr. Stuart Bassman, a Cincinnati-based psychologist, said that information overload is contributing to burnout.

"[People] look on the internet, look for something that gives them knowledge to master this. The unfortunate thing is that the cure becomes a curse, and they're overwhelmed with data,” Bassman said.

MORE: Suffering from 'COVID fatigue'? You're not alone — but you shouldn't give in

But Bassman advised against both blocking out all information or inundating yourself with too much confusing data.

“The key to that is simplifying it, without distorting it,” he said.

Stephanie Courtney, an epidemiologist with the Cincinnati Health Department, said the key figure to watch is the positivity rate. That takes the number of positive cases and divides it by the total number of tests performed.

She also recommends watching the reproduction number, or R-value, which represents how many people one person spreads the virus to. For example, an R-value of 1 means a person infected with COVID-19 is, on average, spreading it to one other person. The lower the number, the better -- and experts want it lower than 1.

Courtney also recommends tracking your state's color coded system. In some cities like Cincinnati, you can track spread by neighborhood.

Bassman said knowing where to look can provide clarity while keeping peace of mind.

"We're overwhelmed. We don't know how to manage it,” Bassman said. “So we need to learn how to be selective."