Empower Wisconsin | July 28, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — State Sen. Steve Nass says he has serious concerns over the backlog of negative COVID-19 test results after the discovery last week that Dane County had failed to report 17,000 negative results for 10 days or more.
The Whitewater Republican issued a press release Monday, calling on state and local public health officials to publicly announce if their agencies currently have backlogs or had backlogs at any time since at least June 1, 2020, in reporting negative Covid-19 test results. Nass also is demanding that state and local public health officials appropriately correct all data, particularly positivity rate calculations, upon entering all backlogged negative results.
“After the stunning revelation that Dane County had 17,000 unreported Covid-19 negative results that dramatically skewed the positivity rates in that county for at least three weeks, the public can no longer be assured that all state and local data is reliable without greater transparency and honesty from public health bureaucrats,” Nass said. “In every corner of Wisconsin, local governments, private businesses and individual citizens have been using the flawed Covid-19 data to make key decisions and now must reevaluate those decisions once the accurate positivity rates are known.”
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has acknowledged that Dane County is not the only reporting agency in the state with a backlog. Still, DHS has refused to identify the local public health agencies with backlogs in entering Covid-19 negative test results.
Omitting thousands of negative test results skewed the universe of the positivity rate in Dane County, according to a report from WKOW-TV. When the actual numbers were added in, the positivity rate dropped from 13.4 percent to about 4 percent over a seven-day period. The average daily rate dropped from 6.1 percent to 2.1 percent.
That’s a significant difference, yet the data was used to inform public health policies that have severely restricted Madison’s economy and taken liberties from its cities.
“There is no doubt in my mind that the state positivity rate and many local county positivity rates are skewed significantly higher by the backlogs in reporting negative results. While the development of backlogs was not intentional, the decision by public health officials to stay quiet about the existence of the backlogs was clearly intentional and terribly inappropriate,” Nass said.
Counties across the state are dealing with backlogs, some longer than others. DHS’ daily COVID-19 briefing, however, leaves the impression that testing data is up-to-date and accurate, Nass said. Last week’s revelations and other concerns have shown it is, at times, neither.
Checking the count
There are also concerns that some individuals who test positive for COVID-19 are counted as new cases when they are subsequently tested to see whether they still have the virus. Such double-counting has been reported in other states.
Asked about the matter on Monday, a DHS officials said that is not the case in Wisconsin.
“Each person is counted just once no matter how many tests they have taken,” Elizabeth Goodsitt, communications specialist for the agency, said in an email to Empower Wisconsin. Multiple tests per person are not included in these summary statistics are not included in the Summary Statistics boxes, according to the DHS COVID-19 Webpage.
Goodsitt did not answer a follow-up email when asked again about another concern surrounding testing data. Empower Wisconsin has sent DHS three emails over three days seeking an answer.
As Empower Wisconsin reported last week, some sources say they have been informed they tested positive for COVID-19 even though they haven’t taken the test.
In one case, a couple told a southern Wisconsin nurse that they “tested positive” for COVID-19 even though they didn’t take the test. They had waited in a long line for free testing and ultimately decided to back out before getting swabbed.