State to change COVID data reporting again

Federal, state and local positivity rates still in stark contrast to each other

DES MOINES – The way the state reports updated COVID data is undergoing another change.

According to Iowa Department of Public Health Director Kelly Garcia, the state will be updating the site on Friday to reflect what she said was more relevant information that Iowans are wanting to see.

The site will be updated on Sept. 3 with information from Wednesday’s report, and then it will be updated again each Wednesday as it has in the past.

However, new information such as the associated vaccination data from hospitalized patients will be on the landing page. The Regional Medical Coordination Center (RMCC) and hospitalization data will be combined into one Hospitalization page.

“As we know more about COVID, and as the new variant is dominant, our approach has evolved. We continually reassess the information we’re sharing and the way we share it,” Garcia said.

She said Iowa was one of the last states to scale back to weekly reporting, but said the department evaluates all critical data throughout the day.

“Today there is a clear interest, we’re hearing from Iowans, to know and understand more so we’re adjusting our public reporting,” she said.

But reporting data has been a consistent source of inconsistency. This week the Centers for Disease Control had Lee County listed as a 25% 7-day positivity rating on Tuesday. But Wednesday the IDPH listed Lee County with a 9.3% 7-day average.

Michele Ross, administrator at the Lee County Health Department, said that would be a question for the people putting out the data. But the county, as it always has, reports data provided by the IDPH.

She said one of the differences could be that the state includes antigen testing in their total positivity rate, while the CDC only reports PCR, or swab testing.

Per the state website, antigen testing makes up 36% of the total tests used to calculate county and state positivity ratings. That rate for the state as of Wednesday was 8.8%. Factoring out the antigen testing, the state has seen 363,445 positive tests out of 3.63 million tests, or right at 10%, a 1.2% increase compared to the overall positivity rate including antigen.

Specific to Lee County, 32,832 antigen tests have been reported with just 567 positive outcomes, whereas there were 39,065 PCR tests completed with 4,516 positive results since testing began in March of 2020.

The state site shows total testing data, but then somehow comes up with a 7-day and 14-day positivity rating without showing testing specific to those time ranges. That may be part of the updated website for a clearer picture of week to week spread.

From Aug. 26-Sept. 1, the county reported 124 new positive cases, according to IDPH, or an average of 18 per day. The CDC at showed Lee County with 154 positive PCR tests for the same time period.

Ross said answers to those questions would have to come from CDC and IDPH officials.

“We acknowledge the CDC data tracker reports different data as well as other data sets available out there.   We suggest those who have questions about data reported by IDPH or other sources such as the CDC contact them directly to explain their source and how they report,” Ross said.

“LCHD does not have control of what data they collect nor how it is reported. To remain consistent, we only report on the IDPH data which is taken directly from their website, which is available to the public. 

“We do realize one difference between IDPH data and CDC data is IDPH reports both PCR and Antigen test result data and the CDC data tracker reports PCR test result data and not Antigen test result data to figure their reported positivity rates.” 

Reynolds continues to encourage Iowans to get vaccinated as it is showing the greatest potential for keeping people out of the hospital thus freeing up medical resources.

She said 99% of new cases being discovered are from the Delta Variant.

“The rise were experiencing isn’t a cause for panic – far from it. But it is a good reason to consider what you can do to help,” she said.

“Iowans 12 years and over with at least one does is now at 66.1% and 65 and over is at 91%, but the virus continues to spread among the unvaccinated. 79% of those hospitalized were not vaccinated and 90% of those in ICU currently are unvaccinated.

“Resources in some hospitals are being stretched. In many cases due to bed shortages, but many others are due to workforce shortages. Getting vaccinated is the most effective tool we have and it’s especially important as we roll into flu season.”

She also stuck to her guns on the law banning mask mandates in Iowa schools saying that only 2% of those currently hospitalized are under age 18. She did not, however, address the risk of students carrying the virus home to family members.

“Fortunately what we also know about COVID is the risk of serious illness in children is minimal. Only 2% of those hospitalized are under age 18. That’s encouraging, but we monitor it closely,” Reynolds said.

“COVID isn’t going away and practically speaking, what began as a pandemic will be an endemic.”

One reporter asked Garcia if she thought children should be wearing masks at school. Reynolds didn’t allow Garcia to answer the question and told the reporter, “It doesn’t matter, it’s the law”, and ended the press conference.

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