Using COVID-19 data with caution

Thinking about using COVID-19 data or statistics in your course and research projects? The library would like to recommend two resources we found useful. These resources are admittedly U.S. centric, but we think the skills and perspectives are widely applicable. 

Evaluating Data Types: A Guide for Decision Makers using Data to Understand the Extent and Spread of COVID-19 – report produced by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2020). Statistics such as confirmed cases, hospitalizations, emergency department visits, reported confirmed deaths, excess deaths, test outcomes, etc. are subject to further evaluation regarding their reliability, validity, availability and utility:

  • How each of them has been collected (representativeness, bias attached to reporting, small cases, measurement and sampling error, time of reporting and updates, geographical coverage)? 
  • In what ways can they be useful (or not)? 
  • What can each of them reveal to us?

A screenshot of the slides of the workshop "Damned Lies and Coronavirus Statistics"

Damned Lies and Coronavirus Statistics – workshop taught by Dr. Joel Best, professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware. It was presented at the 2020 ICPSR Data Fair: Data In Real Life in September. Statistics are arguably socially constructed, and can be used by public health experts and politicians in dramatically different ways.

If you need help with finding and using data sources and information on COVID-19, please reach out to us at the library ( We are here to help.