The Most Reliable COVID-19 Online Resources: Your Ultimate Guide

By Bertalan Meskó, MD, PhD

In the era of fake news, mask naysayers and, dare we say, covidiots, relevant news often gets lost under the rubble of conspiracy theories and what not. 2020 already feels like a lucid fever dream as it is and we would be better off being well-informed by trustworthy sources of information.

However, even leading authorities are lagging behind in this respect. The WHO only recently stopped releasing its daily PDF COVID reports in favour of an online dashboard. On the other hand, Johns Hopkins put one together in 3 days in January. It took the WHO 8 months since the first outbreak to have its own. The health authority also recently upgraded its Health Alert service on Messenger with an A.I. to provide users with a better interactive experience, offer more accurate information, and allow the WHO to respond more quickly. The WHO is a bit later to the party as other similar chatbots have been coming out since March.

It’s likely that their bureaucracy is standing in the way. That would explain how they can be so slow in providing these resources. But the WHO is all we have when it comes to global healthcare leadership, and it must not be outpaced by third parties, fake news and conspiracy theories.

At The Medical Futurist, we have been watching every resource and major medical organisation since the start of the pandemic to find out which ones are reliable and useful while meeting medical and scientific standards. We have been covering the latest news from digital health apps to use during the quarantine through exploring the threats of a second wave to discussing the privacy issues that entail the increased use of digital tools to mitigate the virus’ spread. We even wrote a full e-book, available for free, to help you fight the pandemic while being at home.

To further help you in these uncertain times, we present our ultimate list of COVID-19-related resources we stand by. From statistics through vaccine development progress to the bigger picture, these are the resources you can trust, vouched by us.

General pandemic numbers

One thing is sure with the pandemic: the number of positive cases keeps increasing by the day. However, even as the number of confirmed cases rises, another number is rising in parallel: that of recovered cases. But here again updates can take time or there might even be errors or fake news about the resurgence of the virus in a free platform just for hype.

Below are the numbers you can trust, from leading authorities:

1. The most official: the WHO’s COVID-19 Dashboard

Taking the lead in global healthcare, the WHO’s dashboard offers the most official COVID-19 numbers on the internet. It allows you to explore the global data of each country from deaths to reported cases in an interactive fashion.

2. The most user-friendly: Worldometer Live Coronavirus Update

If you want a no-frills approach to the numbers, then the Worldometer Live Coronavirus Update is where you head. The first three numbers to greet you are straight to the point: positive cases, deaths, recovered cases. Details of individual countries and source links are easy to access by scrolling down the one-pager.

3. The earliest dashboard: Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 Dashboard

As we mentioned in the introduction, Johns Hopkins put together an online COVID-19 dashboard in 3 days back in January when the virus was “merely” an outbreak. The dashboard’s approach quickly picked up steam to set the standard of what to expect out of such a dashboard: interactive world map, detailed stats and transparency regarding sources. 

4. The most detailed (but U.S specific): The COVID Tracking Project

A volunteer organization launched from The Atlantic, the COVID Tracking Project is an online resource that gives detailed information regarding the number of cases, PCR tests, antibody tests, hospitalisation and outcome of all 50 U.S. states, 5 territories, and the District of Columbia. These are updated on a daily basis so you can have the latest numbers. The catch is that the data is only available to those regions.

Public health numbers

While the general pandemic numbers might be the go-to sources for quick info for most people, there are other numbers that could be of interest if you want some deeper insights. These relate to public health numbers, which can even be used by experts to help in better forecasting infection rates.

1. The lower the better: R numbers

In general, the reproduction number, or R number, refers to how rapidly the virus spreads. If the value is above 1, then the virus spreads rapidly. The lower the value, the more slowly it spreads; meaning that the virus will eventually stop spreading as it is not infecting enough people to maintain the outbreak. Each country and region will have different R numbers based on the community’s behaviours and actions.

Rt COVID-19 is a good source for R data in U.S. states. Most countries don’t have such an interactive online resource to display their R numbers and Rt COVID-19 could serve as a template for those looking to display their own country’s values.

2. Looking past the drain: sewage data

It might sound unlikely, but wastewater holds valuable COVID-19 information. By analysing levels of COVID-19 genetic material in sewage, epidemiologists can predict case numbers by about 7-10 days in advance. That’s because viral material appears in faeces within three days of infection and can be detected even in asymptomatic and “pre-symptomatic” patients. Countries like the U.S.HungaryFrancethe U.K. and Spain are already analysing the information contained in wastewater. Even your country might be doing so – you might want to take a look at the local numbers to better plan ahead.

Sewage data can contribute to forecasting outbreaks.

While it sounds like an ideal predictor for infected cases, combining the information gathered from sewage analyses with standard epidemiological data, contact tracing and social media data can further help create the most reliable forecasting system to date.

Such a system will enhance the forecasting accuracy by analysing trends before cases erupt and recommending increased testing in specific areas.

Keeping track of the vaccine

Many might think of a COVID-19 vaccine as the much awaited saviour. Governments are already jumping on this hype train. They are engaging in a vaccine race, prioritising economic gains and prestige over safety. Russia became the first country to approve a coronavirus vaccine for widespread use. But they cut corners to boast this feat. Their Sputnik V vaccine was tested on only 76 volunteers and skipped Phase III trials, which would better reveal the efficacy of the treatment and rare side effects, if any.

Ultimately, it’s our own actions that will determine the virus’ trend during the course of the year. Nevertheless, a properly-tested vaccine is on its way, albeit at a slower pace. Below you will find where to keep in touch with developments on COVID’s vaccine research.

1. Tracking treatment candidates: COVID-19 therapeutics tracker

Updated weekly, the COVID-19 therapeutics tracker lists the latest developments in treatment candidates. You will find details of their pharmacological class, the company behind a candidate and the trial phase it is in.

2. COVID studies: the WHO Database

SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus and much research is required to better understand its impact on our health. Multiple studies are being conducted along these lines from the impact of work loss during the pandemic to cognitive decline after stroke and the impact of COVID-19. ClinicalTrials.gov created a database of such ongoing and completed COVID-19 studies listed on the World Health Organization’s International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (WHO ICTRP). There are over 2370 studies listed with access to each study’s website. Updates to the list are done on a weekly basis.

Test accuracy

Tests are crucial in determining the number of COVID-19 cases and help in taking appropriate public health measures. But checking the accuracy and reliability can get challenging. Fortunately, there are databases built specifically to help you find what you need regarding those COVID tests.

1. COVID-19 In Vitro Diagnostic Devices and Test Methods Database 

The EU’s Joint Research Center (JRE) built an online database to provide a comprehensive overview of all publicly available information regarding which in vitro diagnostic medical devices (IVDs), laboratory-developed devices and related test methods for COVID-19 bear the CE marking. The database also details the scientific literature behind COVID-19 test methods and devices.

2. The Our World in Data COVID-19 Testing dataset

Our World in Data released an online, open-source COVID-19 Testing dataset that is updated twice a week. It gives detailed information about PCR tests performed in several countries around the world. While some countries’ data aren’t available, it offers a transparent approach to collecting and displaying these pieces of information.

Becoming a COVID futurist: forecasting with the Good Judgement Project

In these uncertain times, a new skill to develop that will become handy is preparedness. It will help you get better prepared for upcoming changes. One can fine-tune such a skill with forecasting. The Good Judgement Project is a good place to start training. It even has COVID-19 related topics, where you can share your reasoning behind your predictions and learn about that of others.

Getting the big picture: Corona Daily Newsletter

Staying on top of the news pertaining to the pandemic is no easy task with the rate at which new developments emerge. The Corona Daily Newsletter is here to help you stay on top. Its regular newsletters compile the latest data, news and podcasts from around the internet’s trusted sources.

The newsletter has been issued at a slower rate lately, mostly on a biweekly/monthly basis, unlike the daily newsletters that were issued in the previous months. But it’s very useful and worth subscribing if you want a one-stop-shop for relevant news, rather than comb the internet for those.

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