Context: While the World Health Organization (WHO) has established guidance on COVID-19 surveillance, little is known about implementation of these guidelines in federations, which fragment authority across multiple levels of government. This study examines how subnational governments in federal democracies collect and report data on COVID-19 cases and mortality associated with COVID-19.

Methods: We collected data from subnational government websites in 15 federal democracies to construct indices of COVID-19 data quality. Using bivariate and multivariate regression, we analyzed the relationship between these indices and indicators of state capacity, the decentralization of resources and authority, and the quality of democratic institutions. We supplement these quantitative analyses with qualitative case studies of subnational COVID-19 data in Brazil, Spain, and the United States.

Findings: Subnational governments in federations vary in their collection of data on COVID-19 mortality, testing, hospitalization, and demographics. There are statistically significant associations (p < 0.05) between subnational data quality and key indicators of public health system capacity, fiscal decentralization, and the quality of democratic institutions. Case studies illustrate the importance of both governmental and civil-society institutions that foster accountability.

Conclusions: The quality of subnational COVID-19 surveillance data in federations depends in part on public health system capacity, fiscal decentralization, and the quality of democracy.

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