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Lack of, inaccurate testing creates 'fuzzy picture'

Posted at 9:41 PM, Apr 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-16 22:41:16-04

WACO, TX — Daily COVID-19 reports vary widely from county to county for many different reasons. College towns may have more cases than rural counties. Same with counties with prisons.

So how do we know we're getting the more accurate numbers possible?

Health districts say they're giving us the best information modern science can provide.

Politico has reported the number of virus tests being checked each day in commercial labs in the U.S. dropped by more than 30 percent over the past week.

Experts say it’s possible demand from at-risk groups has peaked, and that demand has fallen off, but it raises interesting questions about our own testing in Central Texas. That's to the extent we can get testing numbers.

Waco-McLennan County says it can't get an accurate count on coronavirus tests because that information goes straight to the state, bypassing the health district.

Meantime, Brazos County reports it's number of tests every day. On Thursday the number stood at 2,622 tests, though a spokesperson calls that a "ballpark figure."

How does Brazos County get numbers McLennan County can't get? Brazos County cites its long-standing relationship with its healthcare providers.

Meantime, Waco grandmother Kathleen Stanton says she takes the daily numbers with a big grain of salt.

"I'm not sure I believe all of 'em. Because I've known other people that have had symptoms, one in particular, and didn't get tested, but she did have it and it lasted 14 days," she explained.

Compare Brazos and McLennan numbers again, and you'll see why she calls them just an "indication."

Thursday McLennan County reported two more cases for a total of 76. Brazos County reported 158.

"Do I think the numbers are trustworthy? For McLennan County I do," said Kelly Craine of the Waco-McLennan Health District.

Then why the discrepancy? Spokespeople at both departments point to testing. Brazos says it does a lot. McLennan says it does more every day. Both agree, in general, the more testing, the more positive cases.

Then there's the issue of false negatives reported around the country. Craine says no matter what a test says, hospitals can treat any sick person.

”Whether you have COVID or not, whether the test is positive, if you need to be hospitalized, that's going to happen. Our hospitals have that capacity to take people in, beyond just COVID patients,” she said.

McLennan County says it's important to note it has no reported cases from nursing homes or jails.

But since this virus is new, and the testing perhaps imprecise, it doesn't give the clearest picture of the virus, but Craine says it does give health leaders enough information on which to act.

”It sounds like I'm saying the picture is fuzzy, but it's the best picture we can get. I think that's true. It is, we have an understanding. I think the most important thing is whatever the case count, people need to know that COVID is in McLennan County, so when you are out and about and doing your daily errands around other people, you're at risk,” explained Craine.

Exactly the reason Kathleen Stanton looks askance at the numbers, and keeps her own counsel when it comes to COVID-19.

"Just being careful going to the grocery store once a week and no place else," said Stanton.

Even though the picture here remains somewhat fuzzy, authorities say it’s the best picture possible. They also encourage us to take extra steps to protect ourselves whether we believe the numbers or not.