On May 18, Don van der Vaart pointed out something distressing: North Carolina was tied with Connecticut as last in the nation in reporting death data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By July, the delinquent NC Department of Health and Human Services had made sure NC was dead last, falling behind Connecticut and weeks behind everybody else.

By July 21, NC was dead last and over a month behind all but two states.

Why is this important, beyond how embarrassing it is? Because of how the data are used by the CDC:

The CDC’s Excess Deaths Associated with COVID-19 dashboard is a valuable tool for helping pinpoint an unusual outbreak of deaths in a part of the country, regardless of the reason for the fatalities. It tracks a state’s average number of deaths at a point in time, estimated over a number of years, and predicts the “expected deaths” for that period in the future.

Of course, actual deaths will differ from a statistical prediction of expected deaths. As long as the actual deaths are below a 95 percent confidence interval for expected deaths, the CDC reckons there are no unusual causes of deaths during that period.  If actual deaths exceed that threshold, however, those “excess deaths” alert the CDC that there is an unusual cause of death in that jurisdiction.

A pandemic like COVID-19 or a particularly bad outbreak of influenza could push a state into “excess deaths” territory. What makes this method so useful is that it doesn’t worry about judgment calls over the actual causes of deaths. It compares total deaths in a state during a period with the history of deaths in that state at that same time of the year. It isn’t affected by uncertainties over the classification of deaths from a pandemic like COVID-19 or the flu.

Today, nearly every state and territory is updated through July 25. Puerto Rico is updated through July 18; West Virginia, July 4; and Connecticut, June 27.

North Carolina’s last update to the CDC?

June 13.