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COVID-19: Why the numbers reported from local agencies may differ from ODH

Here's a look at why there may be discrepancies in the numbers you see and what they actually mean in context.

TOLEDO, Ohio — Every day, state and local leaders provide updates on COVID-19; the most sought after numbers being the ever-changing case count in our own backyards.

However, if you are looking at the numbers released by both the Ohio Department of Health and local health departments, like Toledo-Lucas County (TLCHD), the data can start to feel overwhelming. You may also notice that key numbers from ODH and local agencies don't always line up. Here's a look at why there may be discrepancies in the numbers you see and what they actually mean in context.

PROCESS

According to the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, the process is a bit more complex than just counting patients one by one. It's not "real time" and the human and health care factor contribute to the fluidity of the process, which is subject to change hour by hour.

LET'S BREAK THINGS DOWN

The Toledo-Lucas County Health Department receives case information from hospitals, labs, individual doctors and infectious disease doctors among others.

Each day, the epidemiologists at TLCHD pull information together from all of those source, and begin going through each case individually.

This is important to note: The key factor as to whether a positive test becomes a Lucas County case recognized by TLCHD is residency. So if a person is given a test in the county, they will not be considered a Lucas County case until it's confirmed they actually live there.

For example: Let's say someone works in Toledo and they test positive for coronavirus. Their results are reported to the Ohio Department of Health. The TLCHD looks at that positive test, contacts that person and figures out they actually live in Monroe, Mich. That case would then be transferred to Michigan, regardless of where they work, where they were tested or where they end up being hospitalized.

Simple enough, right? However, due to a lag between when information comes through the reporting systems and when local agencies can confirm where the patient really lives, state numbers don't always align with the county numbers. 

Here's a look at how case information gets from one place to another: 

The first set of reports containing positive test results come from Electronic Laboratory Reporting (ELR). This is how test results are given to ODH and is completed by the labs only. 

Those numbers then head over to TLCHD where they are cross-checked and checked for duplication. Then, most importantly, the department confirms the residency of the positive test result.

Once everything is in order, that case is put into the Ohio Disease Reporting System (ODRS) and is returned to the state as a confirmed Lucas County case. 

After all of those steps are complete, the public numbers are either confirmed or edited at the state level.

Epidemiologists are then responsible for what's called “contact tracing,” where they call and speak to patients who have tested positive. They ask questions about travel, family and community contacts, large group settings, etc. 

Health department leaders explained that this will likely NOT occur before the case is confirmed and goes into ODRS. It's a continuous process that is needed both in the short term to identify hot spots, but also in the long term to study progression of the virus.

Another reason numbers may differ: In addition to confirming residency, another reason the numbers are constantly adjusting is the TIME they are being pulled for reporting. Leaders with the Ohio Department of Health generally pull their numbers daily at 11 a.m. to prepare for the 2 p.m. briefing from Gov. Mike DeWine. Lucas County, however, pulls those numbers at 2:45 p.m. daily before the usual press conference at 4 p.m.
 
Leaders with TLCHD said that they believe the numbers they pull are the most accurate and up-to-date representation of what's happening in the county each day and those are they numbers they will continue to provide.

TERMS TO KNOW

When watching these daily press conferences, it's vital to understand the terms health professionals are using to get a true picture of what this data means in context.

DEFINITIONS of TERMS

  • ALL cases = Total cases to date in the county. This number will not need to be adjusted for those who, unfortunately, pass away. This is the TOTAL number from day one.
  • Number of deaths = Health department officials believe this number will continue to grow. This number will not reduce the number of total cases. It is a separate piece of information illustrating how many of the area's total cases have passed. The health department will only ever release the gender, age range and date of death. Out of respect for the patients' privacy, no other information will be released on those individuals. 
  • Number of men and number of women = This number represents the total break down of men and women of TOTAL cases from day one.
  • Cases as a result of travel = This number represents the number of people we know have been confirmed travel exposure as a source of the virus. Again, this number will not change with the number of deaths. This number reflects the TOTAL number of cases from day one.
  • Cases of underlying condition = Same as above. This number represents the number of people we know have been confirmed to have an underlying condition. Again, this number will not change if there is a death. This number reflects the TOTAL number of cases from day one.
     
    PLEASE NOTE: These two numbers (travel and underlying conditions) may not add up to the TOTAL number of cases. Some cases may fit under both of these categories, and some cases will fit in neither.

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Facts not fear: Putting COVID-19 into context


WTOL 11’s coverage of the coronavirus is rooted in Facts, not Fear. Visit https://www.wtol.com/coronavirus-covid-19 for comprehensive coverage, find out what you need to know about northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan specifically, learn more about the symptoms, and keep tabs on the cases around the world here. Have a question? Text it to us at 419-248-1100.

Protect yourself from coronavirus

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  • Dispose: Throw used tissues in a lined can.
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