S.C. health officials increase transparency in COVID-19 data reporting

S.C. health officials increase data transparency

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) - Newly released coronavirus data shows more than 12,000 patients were tested for COVID-19 in South Carolina than previously reported.

This increase stems from the state’s health department finally reporting total test results from private labs.

Knowing how many COVID-19 kits private labs are testing helps paint a better picture of how many people are impacted by the virus.

For weeks, the true number of COVID-19 tests conducted in South Carolina was unknown.

“DHEC is able to report on the total number of cases performed both positive and negative. Private reference labs report positive reports to us. We don’t know the total number of tests performed by a private reference labs,” Dr. Linda Bell with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said during a March 17 press conference.

Some questioned whether this lack of data left the state with a blind spot and created a misleading picture of coronavirus in South Carolina.

This lack of data earned the state a 'B' rating from the COVID Tracking Project, an online site reporting COVID-19 cases nationwide.

Adding private lab data in South Carolina lowered the percent of positive tests from 23% to 10%.

Private labs are performing more tests than the public health lab, according to SCDHEC data.

Without private lab data, SCDHEC data shows only around 9,000 people have been tested for COVID-19. Including private lab data the true number of patients tested as of Monday was 21,384.

This isn’t the only data the department has become more transparent about.

On Friday, Governor Henry McMaster ordered DHEC to report cases by zip codes. This is information officials have been against reporting for weeks.

“The desire for some to obtain details about where infected people are located has become a disturbing distraction because it suggests that there are still people who don’t understand the potential threat for everyone and that any one of us can be exposed at any one time," Bell said during a March 31 press conference.

DHEC argued localized data would give people a false sense of security if no cases were reported in their area.

“Zipcode information alone only represents people who have actually been tested and we know that with inadequate testing supplies and with inadequate access to care not everyone who is sick has been tested," Bell said on Friday.

A shortage of a chemical needed to test results nationwide has led to backlogs in the state of up to 1,800 tests at some points and seven-day waiting periods from private labs.

On Monday, a spokesperson for SCDHEC said the public lab does not have any backlog. The state’s public lab has extended hours and is testing specimens seven days a week.

“The last thing we want to do is have a delay but also we want to be very honest and transparent with you that we are potentially facing a delay over the next day and a half or so,” Nicholas Davidson, the acting director SCDHEC, said on Friday.

This consistent shortage of testing supplies means health officials are prioritizing testing for people most at risk for exposure or severe illness, which means even including private lab numbers doesn’t paint the full picture of COVID-19 cases in the state.

The current testing totals do not include any patient who tested in South Carolina but lives out of state.

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