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  • Megan Johanson

Real Data for Real(ly Tough) Decisions

Especially in my job, but really most places in my life, I’m frequently talking about and encouraging people to use data to inform decisions. Now there is a real chance for me to put my money where my mouth is.

I want to share with you my thought process during this emotionally-charged time and what I am doing to make an informed decision when lives may actually depend on it.

The Holiday Struggle

Since March, there has be a lot of data on COVID-19 and great visualizations to make it easier to understand. I have followed data for the state I live in and the states in which my families and friends live. I’ve watched with increasing anxiety as the number of cases have spiked across the country over the past month, all the while having tense and emotional conversations with my husband about our holiday plans.

Never before have we not seen our families over the holidays, and with a 6-month-old baby that almost no one in our families have met yet, the desire to be with family has never been higher. But the need to protect the people I love is stronger.

In these circumstances, I am not willing to let tradition and emotions cloud my judgment, so I am sharing with you the data sources I’m using to monitor the risk involved with visiting family this holiday season. We have not yet made a final decision about traveling, but will within a few weeks.

The Data Sources

The three sources I share below all feature interactive charts that make it easy to explore the data you are interested in. Click on the images or websites below to go to the interactive charts.

First, I check out the bar charts of daily new cases and daily deaths where I live and where our families live. What I see is a sharp increase in cases and an increasing number of daily deaths since October.

Bar chart from showing the daily new cases of COVID-19 for Ohio. There is a sharp increase in cases starting mid October.
Bar chart showing the daily new cases of COVID-19 for Ohio.

Then, I look at the numbers of cases and deaths on a different site. This site includes projections so I can look ahead and see the severity of COVID-19 where we want to travel over the coming months. These charts include projections for if mask mandates ease or become universal. The difference in cases and deaths between those two scenarios a few months from now is staggering.

Lastly, I look at an interactive tool described in this article. The tool updates daily to tell you the risk of interacting with someone carrying COVID-19 at a gathering, based on the size and location of the gathering. It doesn’t project ahead or show the data over time, but by viewing it frequently I can get an understanding of whether certain locations present an increased likelihood of coming into contact with COVID-19.

The Decision

Based on monitoring these three data sources now and over the coming weeks, my husband and I will make the decision of whether we feel confident enough that we won’t be exposed to or exposing family members to COVID-19 if we travel, or whether we will be hunkering down in our house for a small, virtual Christmas.

Of course, it isn’t going to be an easy decision and the data sources I shared cannot give us a clear yes or no. Knowing that our decision will be supported by data will not eliminate the hurt and heartache that may come with it. But right now we are all doing the best we can, and the level or risk you are willing to take depends on your own unique circumstances..

In lighter news, here are 10 virtual holiday activities I have planned with my family in case we do not travel.


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