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At least 4 states combined numbers from two tests, possibly providing a misleading picture of coronavirus spread

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Posted: May 20, 2020 10:35 AM
Updated: May 21, 2020 9:30 AM


At least four states combined data from two different test results, potentially providing a misleading picture of when and where coronavirus spread as the nation eases restrictions.

More than 1.5 million people in the United States have tested positive for coronavirus and over 93,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Virginia, Texas, Georgia, and Vermont have said they've been adding two numbers to their totals: viral test results and antibody test results.

Viral tests are taken by nose swab or saliva sample, and look for direct evidence someone currently has Covid-19. By contrast, antibody tests use blood samples to look for biological signals that a person has been exposed to the virus in the past.

Combining the two tests' results into one total could provide an inaccurate picture of where and when the virus spread.

The combination also could also overstate a state's ability to test and track active infections -- a key consideration as states ease coronavirus restrictions.

Experts have consistently emphasized that for states to reopen safely, adequate testing and tracing is needed.

'You only know how many cases you have if you do a lot of testing,' said Elizabeth Cohen, CNN's senior medical correspondent. 'If you put the two tests together, you fool yourself into thinking you've done more testing than you have.'

Texas, Virginia and Vermont have said they've recognized the data issue and moved to fix it in the past few days. In Georgia, health officials said they've been adding antibody tests to their 'total tests' number in line with methodology from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC has not responded to CNN's request for comment on whether its guidance includes adding antibody tests to total test numbers. On its website, the database provides daily test results without a breakdown of whether they're viral or antibody.

US testing data 'kind of screwed up,' experts say

In a new report Wednesday, infectious disease experts described US coronavirus testing as disorganized and in need of coordination at the national level.

Testing is currently not accurate enough to be used to make most decisions on who should go back to work or to school, the team at the University of Minnesota said.

'It's a mess out there,' said Mike Osterholm, head of the university's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, which issued the report. 'Testing is very, very important, but we're not doing the right testing.'

The number of tests that have been completed -- numbers widely reported by states and by the White House -- show only part of the picture, the report reads.

'The data is really kind of screwed up,' Osterholm said. 'It's because the public health system is overwhelmed.'

Just this month, researchers described antibody tests in the United States as having 'terrible accuracy' with high rates of false positives.

And in recent days, Georgia and Florida have faced questions about the transparency of their coronavirus data reporting.

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States reopening public places at their own pace

As of Wednesday, all 50 states had partially reopened.

States have moved at different paces as governors balance reopening their economies with keeping residents safe. Some states, including Georgia and Texas, rolled out aggressive reopening plans, while others have taken a more measured approach.

Alaska's and Iowa's governors said their states are ready to reopen most businesses Friday.

In Alaska, that means all houses of worship, libraries, museums and sporting activities can resume at 8 a.m., Gov. Mike Dunleavy's office said. Alaska has the fewest cases of all states and has reported single-digit new cases since mid-April.

Alaskans are still encouraged to take precautions, such as distancing and wearing masks in crowds, and visitation to prisons and senior centers will be limited.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds intends to allow movie theaters, zoos, aquariums, museums and wedding venues to reopen Friday, she said. Swimming pools will be allowed to open for laps and lessons as well. Bars can reopen May 28, and school-sponsored activities, such as sports, can resume June 1, she said.

Indiana also plans to move ahead with opening a large swath of its economy Friday, but with restrictions such as limiting social gatherings to 100 people and dining rooms to 50% capacity, and omitting contact games from the list of sports allowed to resume.

New York, California and Pennsylvania are among states allowing local areas reporting declines in new cases to reopen.

More than half of all California counties are moving forward with plans to reopen their economies further despite data showing the state recorded 102 deaths Tuesday, its second-highest number of daily coronavirus fatalities. The last time California reported the highest deaths in one day was 115 on April 21.

Many cities also remain under stay-at-home orders. In Baltimore, gatherings of more than 10 people are still prohibited and retail stores remain closed.

Experts have warned that lifting restrictions prematurely may mean thousands more Americans will die in a second spike in cases.

More deaths could have been prevented, report says

If the US had encouraged people to stay home and had put social distancing policies in place just a week earlier, more than half the number of deaths and infections could possibly have been prevented, according to new research from Columbia University.

Had the US locked the country down two weeks earlier, 84% of deaths and 82% of cases could have been averted, said the research team led by epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman.

'Our findings underscore the importance of early intervention and aggressive response in controlling the Covid-19 pandemic,' they wrote in the report, published online in the pre-print server MedRxiv. The findings have not been reviewed by other experts for accuracy.

The first US case was reported at the end of January. It wasn't until mid-March that the Trump administration urged Americans to avoid groups and limit travel. That's also when cities including New York started to close schools. The study used epidemiologic modeling to gauge transmission rates from March 15 to May 3 and determine the impact social distancing could have on the transmission of the disease.

The first days were important, they noted. 'During the initial growth of a pandemic, infections increase exponentially. As a consequence, early intervention and fast response are critical,' they wrote.

However, they said, it's also true that they could not account for how people would have responded.

'Public compliance with social distancing rules may also lag due to sub-optimal awareness of infection risk,' they noted.

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Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 276443

Reported Deaths: 8686
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook1390885162
DuPage16694550
Lake16299485
Will13416372
Kane12616325
St. Clair6278183
Madison5341130
Winnebago5274149
McHenry4406118
Champaign433020
Peoria320848
McLean314719
Rock Island278971
Kankakee264276
Unassigned2238236
Sangamon223244
Kendall190325
LaSalle160855
Tazewell155618
DeKalb144038
Macon137439
Coles134928
Williamson131534
Jackson123624
Clinton106420
Boone102623
Adams98110
Randolph91511
Effingham8201
Whiteside67820
Grundy6275
Monroe62715
Ogle6226
Henry6165
Morgan61521
Knox5983
Vermilion5884
Bureau57311
Jefferson55737
Union49624
Macoupin4957
Marion4950
Franklin4892
Stephenson4636
McDonough44515
Logan4301
Christian42710
Woodford3896
Cass38411
Jersey38013
Crawford3521
Iroquois35219
Shelby3464
Fayette3393
Perry33715
Lee3261
Montgomery32213
Livingston3135
Warren3042
Bond2884
Douglas2756
Saline2563
Lawrence2452
Wayne2405
Jo Daviess2362
Greene2086
Moultrie2073
Carroll2044
Cumberland1964
Jasper1969
Washington1931
Hancock1923
Pulaski1561
White1560
Clark1472
Fulton1440
Johnson1440
Richland1444
Wabash1391
Clay1380
Piatt1290
Mason1271
Mercer1265
Menard1150
Edgar1097
Pike1081
De Witt1001
Ford984
Marshall940
Massac942
Alexander711
Scott690
Gallatin672
Hamilton670
Henderson620
Edwards600
Stark502
Schuyler440
Putnam430
Brown370
Calhoun370
Hardin340
Pope261
Out of IL20

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 111505

Reported Deaths: 3506
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion20699758
Lake10217318
Elkhart6368109
St. Joseph604597
Allen5965200
Hamilton4676109
Vanderburgh334129
Hendricks2650122
Monroe240836
Johnson2257122
Tippecanoe221013
Clark211756
Porter205244
Cass19319
Delaware187061
Vigo176622
Madison157775
LaPorte136737
Floyd130361
Howard127563
Kosciusko119017
Bartholomew114957
Warrick114135
Marshall98524
Dubois94918
Boone94446
Hancock90542
Grant88233
Noble88132
Henry76324
Wayne73914
Jackson7349
Morgan69638
Shelby66529
Daviess64127
LaGrange63011
Dearborn62628
Clinton59112
Harrison56024
Putnam5329
Montgomery50521
Lawrence50328
Knox4869
White47914
Gibson4744
Decatur45339
DeKalb45011
Miami4243
Fayette41813
Greene41835
Jasper3822
Steuben3677
Scott35310
Sullivan32912
Jennings30912
Posey3020
Franklin29725
Clay2925
Orange28224
Ripley2788
Carroll27013
Wabash2638
Washington2581
Whitley2526
Starke2517
Wells2472
Adams2443
Jefferson2433
Fulton2352
Huntington2213
Spencer2194
Tipton21722
Perry20913
Randolph2067
Jay1700
Newton17011
Owen1641
Martin1620
Rush1514
Pike1411
Vermillion1260
Fountain1152
Pulaski1141
Blackford1132
Crawford1030
Brown1013
Parke932
Benton880
Union770
Ohio767
Switzerland680
Warren401
Unassigned0225