Shelby County health officials try to clear up confusion surrounding COVID-19 data

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — We’re more than six months into the coronavirus pandemic, and there’s still a lot that we don’t know – and even more that we don’t understand. That includes the data that’s designed to help us analyze how serious the disease is and how we’re doing at fighting it.

Some say the data can be mind-boggling. For instance, two charts from the health department seem to show the positivity rate from the same week but with different numbers.

One chart shows a steady decline, getting down to 6.1%. Another chart from the same week showed a different result, indicating the rate is going up to 11.6%

The health department director tried to explain the difference in data Thursday.

“Previously, we reported number of people tested,” said Dr. Alisa Haushalter, “now we have information on the total number of tests run. Those are sometimes duplicated tests.”

We were also told that two weeks after Labor Day, the county see an infection rate increase, which we have, to some degree. But there was also a big increase one day after Labor Day.

“And that was because it was a really big test number,” said Dr. Jeff Warren. “And if you look at the number of tests that day, it was a huge number of tests. It wasn’t like the percentage got bigger that day. It was just a lot of tests came in.”

The numbers are for policy experts. Warren says the rest of us should focus on personal responsibility.

“They should focus on wearing their mask, social distancing, washing their hands and getting tested when they can. If they feel sick, get tested, isolate themselves. And if you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID, you got a quarantine for 14 days,” Warren said.

The COVID-19 task force is advising everyone to test early and test often. Officials say Shelby County and Memphis have “excess testing capacity” and want to take advantage of it.

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