State corrects error in COVID-19 reporting

By: 
Travis Fischer

Changes to how the state reports COVID-19 data were made last week after an error in how new cases were recorded was brought to light.

“The reporting issue occurred due to an effort to avoid duplicating test results for individuals who tested multiple times,” said Governor Kim Reynolds on Thursday. “As a result, an individual’s most recent test result, whether positive or negative, was unintentionally attributed to the date of their first test result.”

As an example, if an individual were to be tested back in June and that test came back negative, but then later tested positive in August, that result would be recorded as part of June’s tests. While this doesn’t affect the overall numbers that the state reports, it does obscure what the current activity of the pandemic looks like.

At a time when the 14-day positivity rate is being used as a metric to determine whether or not it is appropriate for schools to request permission to utilize online learning, backdating new test results skews the day-to-day positivity rates.

The state was aware of this flaw in reporting back in July but did not address the issue until the discrepancies were brought up by independent media tracking the data.

“We have now adjusted the case reporting to reflect the most recent lab recording date, rather than the date of the first test result,” said Reynolds.

Last Wednesday the state’s website was adjusted to properly track recent positive cases. Since more than 90% COVID-19 tests return negative regardless, the effect is somewhat blunted, changing the 14-day positivity in most counties up or down by about a percentage point.

As of Sunday, August 23, there have been 56,276 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state, increasing the 52,433 from the week prior by 3,843, another slight up-tick from the previous week.

Reynolds continues to attribute the increase largely to the 18-40 demographic.

“While younger people are more likely at low risk for illness, they are highly likely to spread it to others,” said Reynolds. “That’s why virus activity among the college age in young adult populations continues to be a concern.”

In total, approximately 2,251 elderly adults (age 80+); 7,315 older adults (61-80); 16,320 middle aged adults (41-60); 27,012 young adults (18-40); and 3,939 children have tested positive for the disease. These estimates are based on a percentage-based breakdown of the state’s reported positive cases. As the total number of cases increase, the less accurate these estimates will become. A single percentage point difference can change an estimate by more than 560 cases.

With 43,495 cases considered recovered, that leaves roughly 11,700 Iowans currently known to be fighting the disease.

595,770 individuals have been tested since the start of the pandemic with an average of 5,256 tests per day over the last week. Current testing shows that roughly 64% of positive cases result in symptoms while 13% have been asymptomatic, with the remaining cases pending or unknown.

In addition, 46,862 Iowans have undergone serology testing for coronavirus antibodies, which would indicate that they have had the virus. Of that number, 2,980, about 6%, have tested positive for antibodies.

The number of hospitalized Iowans decreased last week to 260, with 82 patients in an ICU. This is still a significantly higher number than two weeks ago but a decrease since the derecho inflated the number by forcing recovering patients back into hospitals.

At the same time, the number of COVID-19 related deaths hit the 1,000 fatality milestone on Wednesday, August 19. With 61 new deaths in the last week, the total as of Sunday is 1,036.

Of the deaths reported this week, 32 have been attributed to outbreaks in long term care facilities, bringing the total deaths in long term care facilities to 553. In Iowa, the number of facilities reporting outbreaks has increased by six, with 35 now reporting outbreaks and 1,056 testing positive with 625 considered recovered.

In total, approximately 487 elderly (47%), 435 older adults (42%), 93 middle aged adults (9%), 20 young adults (2%), and one child (.1%) have died from the virus since the pandemic began.

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, the death of a child occurred in June and is only now being reported after a full range of testing determined that COVID-19 was the cause of death and steps were taken to notify the family and ensure confidentiality. The child was reportedly under the age of five and had significant underlying health conditions.

 

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