Accurately tracking the spread of COVID-19 helps federal, state, and local decision-makers allocate critical emergency response funding and develop public health guidance. 

COVID-19 case counts and deaths are key public health indicators. The accuracy of case counts may vary because of reporting barriers like the convenience of at-home rapid antigen testing and varied access to COVID-19 testing and diagnosis by a healthcare provider. COVID-19 death reporting is less burdened by the previous barriers but can be impacted by the timing lags in data entry across many systems of monitoring. There is evidence to support reported data, but experts agree that the number of COVID cases is likely undercounted and underreported.

The CDC COVID Data Tracker is a collaborative hub of COVID-19 monitoring information informed by state and county reports from hospitals, healthcare providers, and laboratories. The CDC makes this data publicly available and reports national COVID-19 data to the World Health Organization, as required under international health regulations. The current key indicators – COVID-19 test positivity, emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths – help reveal COVID-19 trends across the nation as we navigate COVID-19 as an endemic disease. 

The National Center for Health Statistics also updates national statistics guidelines to ensure increased specificity and accuracy of COVID-19 death reporting. The cause-of-death determination guidelines distinguish COVID-19 and post-acute COVID-19 syndrome (PACS) as either an immediate or underlying cause of death on death certificates and medical reports. These updates help to clarify if people are dying from COVID-19 illness as an immediate cause of death, or dying with a COVID-19-related illness or condition as an underlying cause of death. 

Updated November 22, 2023