Beacon Staff 

DOH pauses negative COVID-19 test results

'Without this pause, we would fall further behind'


Last updated 11/23/2020 at 9:40am

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The state department of health is changing the way it counts COVID-19 tests temporarily. The shift is due to the amount of information received.

The Department of Health is pausing the more granular report of negative COVID-19 tests to shift resources toward expansion, to maintain a clear view of where the pandemic is headed.

The DOH observes case and testing data as well as other sources of information to understand the scope, breadth, and direction of the pandemic. That data includes test positivity numbers, emergency department visits for COVID-19 symptoms, and data on new hospitalizations for COVID-19. The DOH also considers total COVID-19 bed occupancy reported daily, by hospitals. All evidence points toward exponential growth of COVID-19 spread and COVID-19 patients in the hospital.

The current surge has provoked a slew of information: recent disease growth and the associated testing volumes have outpaced DOH efforts and the system's capacity to receive additional results in anticipation of a surge.

"Without this pause, we will fall further behind," a press release from DOH said.

DOH is temporarily changing its methods, to keep up. It is asking the state's laboratories that conduct the largest volume of tests to temporarily stop sending individual negative COVID-19 test results, and instead send an aggregate number of negative test results per day. Online dashboards will report positive cases each day, but not the total number of daily tests or percent positive.

"The backlog of results means that the number of new COVID-19 cases reported the last two days is an undercount and likely does not reflect disease trends. Our temporary action will ensure we receive positive COVID-19 results and the DOH dashboard of the epidemiologic curve and the governor's risk assessment dashboard of the rate per 100,000 newly diagnosed cases reflect disease trends," the press release said.

The DOH disease reporting system receives and processes approximately 33,000 total results per day. The agency is receiving 30 to 50 thousand records per day, leading to a backlog. As of Saturday, there are 53,000 backlogged results which accumulated over the past two to three days. The results are a mix of negative and positive COVID-19 tests, and test results for other notifiable conditions such as tuberculosis.

Testing volumes are expected to increase further in the coming weeks.

DOH emphasizes that those testing for COVID-19 must receive their results and anyone testing positive for COVID-19 should isolate for at least 10 days, since the onset of their symptoms. An additional 24 hours is advised after a fever has resolved (without the use of fever-reducing medication) before contact with others.


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