State’s confusing COVID-19 reports make it difficult to track spread of virus, experts say

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Updated: Sep. 3, 2020 at 6:08 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Data that doesn’t match, moving averages that don’t make sense — the state’s reporting of COVID-19 is confusing even for scholars analyzing the information.

“They’re just not doing a good job of reporting,” said Tim Brown, senior fellow of the Research Program at the East-West Center. “All people are getting is confused. Instead of giving a clear, simple picture of — this is how the epidemic is playing out in Hawaii.”

The confusion starts with the number of tests completed since the pandemic began.

[Read more: Hawaii sees an additional COVID-19 fatality; 339 newly-reported cases]

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency reported Wednesday that 207,406 tests were conducted.

But the state Department of Health had a conflicting report, saying that 275,704 tests were performed — a difference of more than 68,000 tests.

Hawaii News Now asked for explanation from the state’s Joint Information Center but did not hear back.

The Health Department website does say in small print that individuals can contribute multiple negative tests but only one positive test, implying that perhaps the DOH number is higher because they tested the same person more than once.

Healthcare workers and some first responders have tested several times due to exposure.

The Health Department also provides a seven-day moving average — reported at 4.6% on Wednesday.

But that doesn’t make sense when you look at the last week of infection rates. Only one recent day was below 5%, and there were two double digit days. Again, there’s no clear explanation from the state.

“There are numerous ways they can improve the data that they’re releasing that will make them much more useful for determining trends for understanding what’s actually happening with the epidemic,” Brown said.

He added the state should just report the daily number of positives, negatives, inconclusive test results and then provide the daily batch.

“I can do my own three-day, seven-day moving averages from that information,” Brown said, adding that he also wants DOH to make public the communities the positive test results are from to help people understand outbreaks.

Epidemiologist Dr. Dewolfe Miller of the University of Hawaii said it’s wrongheaded for the state to withhold that information. “Good, clear information to the public is the best possible thing that you can give them. Don’t treat them like they won’t be able to understand,” he said.

Both Brown and Miller believe consistent reporting will make clear when the state can safely reopen schools, more businesses and tourism.

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