In the U.S., states — not science — decide what counts as a coronavirus outbreak
By Chris Mooney, Sarah Kaplan and Juliet Eilperin
States are establishing their own rules for what counts as a covid-19 outbreak, which experts say is putting Americans at risk.
Iowa’s outbreak definition is among the weakest in the nation, a Washington Post analysis has found, while states like Michigan, New York and California have much stricter ones. While many states and federal officials define an outbreak as two or three cases in one setting, Iowa will not declare an outbreak unless 10 percent of employees at many businesses and schools fall ill.
“If I get things under control but my neighbor is using different criteria and allows more disease, then I’m still in trouble,” said epidemiologist Cyrus Shahpar, chief science officer for coronavirus response at the nonprofit Resolve to Save Lives. “We’re never going to get past this unless we get on the same page.”