State officials said Friday they will scale back the number of times each week that they post COVID-19 data to the official dashboard from five days a week to just one, an alteration they say reflects the changing nature of the pandemic.
The data will be posted every Thursday and the change takes place next week, the Department of Public Health said in a statement.
Under the new plan, the contact tracing and clusters tabs will be removed from the COVID-19 Cases category. That data, the statement said, no longer represents the situation due to changes in investigation and tracing practices.
In addition, the dashboard won’t include data from local colleges and universities, owing to a decrease in testing conducted there, according to the statement.
Dr. Catherine Brown, the state epidemiologist, said Massachusetts is continuing to adapt its pandemic efforts.
“The changes taking effect next week are part of our ongoing efforts to adapt to the pandemic and focus on the metrics most useful at a given time. The updated reporting reflects the current status of COVID-19 and its impact,” Brown said in the statement.
There are also changes coming to the state’s separate Weekly COVID-19 Vaccination Report, according to the statement.
Starting next week, that dashboard will go live every Wednesday instead of Thursday, and a report on vaccine doses administered that’s been updated Monday through Friday will now be “consolidated into the weekly vaccine dashboard.”
Also under the changes, the statement said, county reporting data will include residents fully vaccinated and those with at least one booster dose, as opposed to the current system that includes people with at least one dose and those with at least one booster.
“While we all have become used to checking the numbers every day, monitoring trends over time is actually the most useful way to apply the COVID-19 data,” said Dr. Helen Boucher, the interim dean of Tufts University School of Medicine and chief academic officer at Tufts Medicine who serves on Governor Charlie Baker’s medical advisory board, in the statement. “Given that Massachusetts has one of the best vaccination and booster percentages in the nation, these changes make sense at this stage in our COVID-19 response.”
The Globe reported Wednesday that state officials were considering the changes, with Brown saying that when the pandemic began more than two years ago, daily reporting was necessary because officials “were trying to make everybody aware of what was happening” and of the need to take measures such as social distancing and wearing masks.
But we are in a different time now, Brown said Wednesday.
“We’re 2½ years later,” he saId. “We have the pharmaceutical tools. We have preventive tools,” such as testing, vaccines, antivirals, and monoclonal antibody treatments.
Reaction from public health experts was mixed Wednesday before the changes were finalized.
Dr. Philip Landrigan, an epidemiologist and director of the Global Public Health Program at Boston College, called it a “reasonable” move.
“I don’t think anything is lost,” Landrigan said. “The situation with COVID is not changing as rapidly as it was a year ago.”
But Dr. Sabrina Assoumou, an assistant professor of medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine and an infectious disease specialist at Boston Medical Center, said that with the rise of the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants in the United States, “it just wouldn’t be the right time” to reduce the frequency.
“I really like those reports,” Assoumou said. “Right now, when we have a more transmissible and more immune-evasive subvariant, I would like to still be able to have access to the information on a daily basis until we learn a little bit more about what this subvariant is going to do.”
Brown, the state epidemiologist, said officials had been watching carefully what other jurisdictions have been doing in reporting frequency and “thinking about what makes sense for Massachusetts.” As of Tuesday, at least 26 states had moved to weekly reporting, including Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont, she said.
Andrew Lover, an assistant professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at UMass Amherst, said the daily case counts are “not a great indicator anymore,” with many people using rapid, at-home tests and not reporting cases to the state.
Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said weekly reporting seems sufficient.
“I don’t see that there’s a need for the daily tallies just because we’ve gotten used to them,” he said. “There’s no evidence that any action has been taken because of a day-to-day change in the trend.”
But Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiology professor who is the inaugural director of the Pandemic Center at Brown University School of Public Health, cautioned that “you lose something” when the frequency of reporting is reduced.
“It becomes much harder, when you go to weekly reporting, to understand if something new is happening and, if so, what,” she said.
Globe correspondent Camille Caldera contributed to this report.
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