Grand Traverse Co. Health Department Changes Approach to COVID-19 Data
The Grand Traverse County Health Department is changing the way they report COVID-19 data.
The county’s COVID-19 Dashboard will no longer report on “recovered” cases, or the overall number of “active cases” in the community.
Health Officer Wendy Hirschenberger says, “It was just the staff time that was necessary to calculate these two numbers, because it took us having to go back through the cases to determine where they were at the in recovery process. If there was a way the state could do it by county, because they’re already doing that calculation somehow (at the state level), that would be best. That would be consistent. But for right now that process was just taking too many hours out of the workday. And we really needed that time to focus on case investigations and contact tracing due to the increased numbers. If we can figure out a way to do it and even estimate it we will bring it back.”
Hirschenberger says increased caseload has put a strain on the department. “We were really able to manage the workload until November, when we really saw almost an 11-or-12-fold increase in cases. Over half of cases have come in the last four weeks alone. So… we just could not keep up with the surge.”
Hirschenberger adds, “Over the past six weeks we’ve seen a rapid increase in the number of our new daily cases, in our region and particularly in our county. When the community transmission becomes so widespread, you have to look at strategies that will have the most impact. And also consider your resources as well. So we’re really looking at what we can do to quickly identify cases through increased testing. And also, investigating the high-priority cases that would have the most potential for increased risk of community spread.”
Last week, the health department stopped reporting ‘probable’ cases separately, and now lists them in the same category as new ‘confirmed’ cases.” Hirschenberger says, “They’ll be reported out as “new cases.” They’ll be combined with the ‘confirmed’ – the definition previously. It got a little confusing when there were different kinds of testing.” She adds, “Throughout this pandemic we’ve had people who were ‘probables’, who either chose not to get tested or maybe they eventually got tested and then they became a confirmed case. So you can see kind of how reporting goes back and forth. Sometimes the probable numbers went up or down. The reporting of ‘probables’ and combining it with ‘confirmed’ with our daily cases is really better to align with the MI Safe state dashboard, the CDC numbers, the Johns Hopkins and other dashboards that you see. So it really, I think, will just be easier for the public to see the true representation of what cases are like in our community.”
The health department will now be listing the ‘percent positivity rate,’ which they say helps health experts better understand how widespread community transmission is… and whether enough testing is being done. “We don’t take these decisions lightly. We really want to provide as much information as we can, to the community so people can make good decisions. But with where we’re at in the state in Michigan and where we’re at in our county with the high percent positivity and the high community transmission, we have been saying actually for months that you should assume anytime you’re going out you’re essentially taking some levels of risk. So it’s up to individuals to mitigate that risk.”
Hirschenberger notes the health department is also no longer reporting on “low-risk sites” for potential community exposure. But she says high-risk sites, with greater risk for transmission with larger numbers of people, while continue to be reported to the public. She says low-risk reporting became overwhelming. “Anywhere the public goes they risk being exposed.”