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CDC’s coronavirus dashboard includes data that could inflate states’ test numbers


A basic view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Edward R. Roybal campus in Atlanta, Georgia on April 23, 2020.

Tami Chappell | AFP | Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s newest coronavirus dashboard combines data on two totally different sorts of exams that consultants say could be inflating key statistics that epidemiologists use to observe the outbreak.

The company’s lately launched Covid-19 Data Tracker‘s dashboard on testing combines outcomes for each diagnostic exams, which determine present infections, and serological exams, which detect whether or not somebody has beforehand been contaminated. Epidemiologists warning that the exams are usually not designed for a similar goal and mixing the data could masks actuality.

The CDC says it goals to separate data on the 2 kinds of exams, quickly.

“[The dashboard] includes diagnostic and serology results, which includes repeat testing for individuals, as well as serology testing counts and additional serology test information from commercial laboratories,” CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund stated, in an announcement to CNBC. “We hope to have the testing data broken down between PCR [or diagnostic testing] and serology testing in the coming weeks as well.”

The CDC didn’t reply to CNBC’s question about why the data was printed mixed. The Atlantic first reported on the CDC’s data.

Because serological exams are meant for use for each asymptomatic and symptomatic folks whereas diagnostic exams, or PCR exams, are at the moment getting used typically to verify suspected infections, individuals are much less prone to test optimistic with a serological test than with a PCR test, stated Robert Bednarczyk, assistant professor of worldwide well being and epidemiology at Emory University.

“If we’re testing more people and not finding as many cases, that would be a sign that things are getting better,” he informed CNBC. “But if that’s happening because we’re artificially inflating the test numbers, then we are not seeing the true picture.”

The diagnostic exams, most of which require a pattern collected with a swab, are essential for contact tracing and to cease the unfold of the virus, Bednarczyk stated. 

Serological exams, which use a blood pattern, are utilized by epidemiologists to estimate how a lot the inhabitants has already been uncovered to the virus, Bednarczyk stated. He added that it is helpful from a analysis perspective, however should not be used to find out the state of the outbreak. 

“Without a clear apples-to-apples comparison of the number of tests per capita, it is hard to compare disease rates across states,” he stated. “The test types should be separated.”

In lieu of federal data-collection tips, a number of state departments of public well being have additionally reported their testing data in that mixed style. 

Georgia, which made one of many earliest and most formidable choices to reopen giant elements of its financial system, at the moment combines data on the 2 exams, The Macon Telegraph first reported. The Georgia Department of Public Health confirmed to CNBC on Thursday that it’s working to replace its web site to separate the data. A spokeswoman added that 57,000, or about 14%, of the state’s roughly 407,000 exams run have been serological exams.

Virginia and Vermont confirmed to CNBC that they beforehand mixed data on the 2 exams however have since up to date their web sites to separate the 2 data units. 

Delineating the data made a “minimal” influence, stated Vermont Department of Public Health spokesman Ben Truman, however he stated the state made the transfer to keep away from inflating the test-positivity price, a key data level that signifies the variety of folks examined who flip up optimistic for the virus. Some states have tied their reopening plan to particular test-positivity milestones.

“To be a case you have to be lab-confirmed through a molecular test,” reads a proof of the choice to separate the data from Vermont’s epidemiology data workforce, offered by Truman. “To allow for [percent-] positive calculation, we have to only include those tests that could potentially make you a case, so only molecular tests. If we include serology, we inflate the denominator.”



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