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It’s impossible to count everyone with COVID-19

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acastro_200428_1777_coronavirus_0002.0.0 Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Zack Moore, state epidemiologist in North Carolina, can’t say how many people in the state have COVID-19. He knows how many people test positive for the coronavirus each day, and how many people are in the hospitals across the state, and how many people go to the emergency room with an illness that could be COVID-19. None of those numbers alone pins down how many people are infected. But together, they help sketch an outline of the pandemic.

“It’s never about one single data source. Every source of data is helpful, but they all have their own limitations. So it’s about using them together,” he says.

There’s no way for public health experts to actually count every single person who has any illness at a given time, even well-known...

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