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Houston area seeing slight uptick in number of coronavirus cases, but what does it mean?

Over the last seven days, data provided to the Texas Department of State Health Services showed an uptick in the daily number of positive COVID-19 cases reported in Harris County.

However, infectious disease experts say daily totals can be misleading and a better barometer is the positivity rate. This rate gives the daily percentage of those testing positive for COVID-19.

“It gives a sense for what is the general risk out there,” said Dr. Prathit Kulkarni, assistant professor of medicine, infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine.

According to state data analyzed by Channel 2 Investigates, the positivity rate in Texas began dropping from a high of 15% on April 12 but has since plateaued at between 5% and 7% since April 23. Kulkarni said what we are not seeing is a daily decline in this rate.

So what does that mean to you?

“Wear a mask, social distancing, hand-washing, staying away from sick people,” Kulkarni said.

Kulkarni said what we need to see is a daily decline over a two week period before even starting to relax. Another measuring stick is hospitalization rates. Statewide, and in our region, these rates have also plateaued. That’s good, no big spikes means our healthcare system is not getting overwhelmed.

“You have to make sure you don’t have small outbreaks in certain areas,” Kulkarni said.

That is going to be crucial going forward as the state reopens. So-called contact tracers can help identify hot-spots. County Judge Lina Hidalgo said at least 300 contact tracers will be ready to go next week.

“That should be right on time for when we start seeing symptoms and hospitalizations from folks who’ve been out and about since the Governor’s re-opening,” Hidalgo said.

The city and county also continue pushing for more testing. So far, only about 2% of the state’s population has been tested.

“The goal is to have testing all over the city, as has been indicated, 24-25 sites, testing sites by the end of the month,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

Testing and contact tracing are also important in finding those who are asymptomatic and spreading the virus without realizing there is a problem. KPRC 2 checked with all the counties in our area and the state; only Galveston County could tell us 18% of their positive cases are asymptomatic.

State officials said they only started getting that specific data less than a month ago so they don’t have enough data yet to draw any conclusions.