Coronavirus: What do the latest updates mean for France?

As Covid-19 cases rise, hospitalisations and deaths stay stable, masks are increasingly mandatory, but President Macron rules out a second confinement - what do the latest updates really mean for France?

28 August 2020
A man considers a sheet of data graphs. Coronavirus: What do the latest updates mean for France?
By Connexion journalist

The daily figures reported by health body Santé Publique France (SPF) are continuing to rise, and it has said that the “dynamic of the fast-growing spread is very worrying”.

There are now 21 departments in the “red zone” (where Covid-19 is actively circulating), and 50 departments in a “vulnerable situation”, of which 15 are on “high” alert.

There are updates almost every day when it comes to the state of Covid in France, but what do they really mean and how should they be interpreted? News service FranceInfo has rounded up the main indicators. We summarise, translate, and explain.

Read more: Coronavirus: 21 French departments now in the 'red zone'

New cases

In its latest update (August 27), SPF said there had been 6,111 new cases reported in the previous 24 hours. This is high. The figure at the beginning of the week (Monday August 24) was 1,955; and later case numbers over the rest of the week have been closer to the 4,000 mark.

What is it? The number of new cases refers to the number of positive Covid-19 tests reported by hospitals or in local labs. SPF describes the daily case number as data that “contributes to closely following the spread of the virus”.

How to interpret it: Case numbers are generally reliable, but should be taken with caution, especially now. Earlier in the pandemic, France was testing far fewer people, and only those in hospital with severe cases of Covid. Now more people are being tested, but there are still likely to be very many infected people who have not been tested - especially those who may be asymptomatic (and who therefore do not realise they are infected, and so will not undertake a test).

Cluster numbers

In its latest update (August 27), SPF said that 21 new clusters had been identified in the past 24 hours, which are now being investigated.

What is it? The number of localised “grouped” cases of contamination identified by the different regional health agencies, les Agences Régionales de Santé (ARS) across the country. A cluster is counted when at least three cases are confirmed over a period of seven days, in the same community or group of people.

Most of the time, these cases are identified and placed in isolation, and anyone thought to have been in contact with them receives a test and is also isolated if necessary. The ARS will declare a cluster “closed” if no new related case is reported after 14 days.

How to interpret it: Each cluster represents a different situation, so understanding the data is not always straightforward. Some clusters made include only a few people, others may affect dozens or more - such as the outbreak at the Cap d’Agde naturist holiday resort earlier this month.

Read more: Naturist resort in France sees ‘worrying’ rise Covid cases

However, a general rise in the number of clusters may indicate a potential rise overall. In better news, they also show that authorities are still managing to identify, isolate, and test new clusters of cases.

Number of tests over a ‘sliding week’

What is it? This is the number of tests, whether positive or negative, that have been undertaken in hospitals or town labs, over the past seven days.

How to interpret it: This number allows health authorities to better understand France’s current testing capacity, but it does not necessarily correspond exactly to the number of tests available. Only PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, done using nasal swabs, are counted. These test whether someone has Covid-19 at the time of the test.

Other tests, such as blood tests for antibodies - which only show up weeks after someone is infected - are not included in this count.

Test positivity levels

What is it? This is the percentage of positive tests recorded, of the overall number of tests done. Only PCR tests are counted.

How to interpret it: While the real number of positive or negative tests can change over time, the level of positivity does not normally change, regardless of the number of tests available. A rise in this level therefore means that the virus is spreading more among the population being tested. This data allows the country to monitor which zones and departments are most affected.

 

Emergency admissions for suspected Covid

What is it? This refers to the number of people who have visited A&E (a hospital emergency department) for suspected Covid-19-related issues. This number is collected by health body la Direction Générale de Santé (DGS) every evening, and communicated to hospitals.

How to interpret it: This data is centralised on the SPF system SurSaUD (Surveillance Sanitaire des Urgences et des Décès), using data sent by services that use the emergency coordination network Oscour (Organisation de la Surveillance Coordonnée des Urgences).

In 2019, SPF said that the network covers only 86% of emergency services in France, meaning that there are likely gaps in the data.

This data also usually only shows the severe cases of the virus, as most people who test positive do not require emergency care and are simply sent home to self-isolate.

Hospitalisations

According to the latest update, there are currently 4,535 people in hospital for Covid-19-related issues.

What is it? The number of people currently in hospital due to Covid-19. The data is calculated using the SI-VIC system, a tool that was established to help with exceptional health situations following the November 2015 Paris terrorist attacks. It is updated every 24 hours.

How to interpret it: The data is considered to be highly accurate, and allows the country to monitor the stress and pressure being put on hospitals over the course of the pandemic. However, it does not show any more information on the severity of the cases, nor the state of the people being hospitalised. Similarly, it obviously does not take into account people who have the virus but are not hospitalised for it, such as many young people.

Intensive care cases

The latest update shows 381 people in intensive care, of the 4,535 people in hospital overall.

What is it? The number of people severely affected by Covid-19 and being monitored in intensive care units. This is also measured by the SI-VIC system and updated every 24 hours.

How to interpret it: This figure offers an at-a-glance figure of the pressure being felt by hospitals during the pandemic - indeed, graphs of the figure show that the first peak of the epidemic was reached in France on April 1. SPF publishes this figure in its regular updates, and also monitors their age and region, in order to give a more detailed picture.

Covid-linked deaths

What is it? The number of people who have died from Covid-19, including in hospitals, healthcare centres and health accommodation units, and elderly care homes.
Hospitals, again using the SI-VIC system, update this number daily, while other establishments and care homes update this figure weekly, every Tuesday.

How to interpret it: SPF says that this data is reliable due to the “addition of deaths from hospitals and those from elderly care homes”, which allow it to estimate the mortality by “covering the two major sites of death from Covid-19”. It says that other deaths from the virus, such as those of people at home or in “other institutions...represent a small part of the mortality”.

Overall, this means that SPF expects that the vast majority of people who die from Covid will do so in hospital or in elderly care homes - making this number a good indication of mortality overall.

However, the way that the data is updated can mean that it shows lower death rates over the weekends, and spikes at the beginning of the week, which is not necessarily the real picture.

Because of this, it can sometimes be more accurate to compare data from the same days of the week or over time, rather than simply looking at the previous 24 hours alone.

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