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Some states are reporting incomplete COVID-19 results, blurring the full picture

Fred Schulte, Kaiser Health News on

Published in News & Features

Florida officials had conducted 10,338 tests as of Sunday, of which 1,007 were positive, for a rate just under 10%. Florida officials said they partnered with commercial labs to "increase the number of tests conducted each day and ensure Floridians receive the critical health information they need in a timely manner."

As of Monday afternoon, hard-hit Washington state had reported 2,221 positive test results and 31,712 negatives, for a positive rate of 7%. The state also reported 110 deaths.

Having a more complete picture in those states that limit reporting "could provide useful information of tracking transmission and timing," said Charles Root, a veteran laboratory consultant in Chicago.

The U.S Surgeon General's Office on Sunday tweeted: "not all labs are reporting yet (or promptly), but the ones that do, report that 90% of tests (which are usually people exposed or w/ symptoms) are #COVID19 negative. That means even among the highest risk people, most don't have #coronavirus."

It's unclear how federal authorities are adjusting to underreporting of negative tests, which could blur what's actually happening across the country.

On Monday, the White House task force took steps to ramp up nationwide reporting.


"We also reminded the governors today that all state laboratories, all hospital laboratories are now required by law to report the results of coronavirus tests to the CDC," Vice President Mike Pence said, according to a transcript of the White House briefing.

Topol said the nation wasted precious time by not marshaling the resources to test large numbers of people over the past two months -- and tallying all results.

"We should be doing a massive screening, a million people randomly by age and gender to get our arms around it," he said. "If we do that, we would get answers. Until then, we don't have any clue. It is all very fuzzy."

Complicating things further, criteria for testing people have changed as COVID-19 cases soared. At a New Jersey drive-thru testing site on Monday, an electronic sign flashed the message: "No symptoms. No Test." Other areas have allowed doctors to order tests when people suspect they might have been in contact with someone who had the disease.


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