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Data collection and technology blamed for different trends in state and local coronavirus positivity rates

HOUSTON – While local statistics show an apparent downturn for the COVID-19 positivity rate, the same rate at the state level continues to rise.

On Monday, medical experts said answering the “why” is not easy, partly because how the state collects its data, which also hasn’t been easy.

A positivity rate is the percentage of people who test positive for a virus. The COVID-19 positivity rate is the number of new daily cases divided by the number of daily viral test results. As KPRC 2 reported, the state positivity rate continues to climb, medical leaders are not sure why that’s the case.

READ: Medical leaders not clear why COVID-19 positivity rate climbing in Texas

As of Monday, the statewide positivity rate is 20.99%.

The Texas Department of State Health Services publishes the state’s positivity rate daily, among other key metrics used to gauge COVID-19′s grip.

As for the month of August, the state health department reports the following:

Aug. 9: 20.99%

Aug. 8: 20.3%

Aug. 7: 19.41%

Aug. 6: 16.79%

Aug. 5: 17.05%

As of Monday, Houston’s positivity rate is 14.6%, according to the local health department.

The seven-day trend among daily positivity rates reported by the city of Houston continued to decline Monday, although far from the preferred positivity rate of less than 5%, data confirmed.

Experts: State numbers hard to crunch

Data collection from various testing locations throughout the state is not standardized. Different venues release their data differently.

“They should be easy to answer. They’re not,” said James McDeavitt, senior vice president and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine.

“When the book is written about what we poor or should have done better in the global pandemic, I think one of the lessons learned will be that we’ve got fragmentation of data sources,” McDeavitt said.

Technology differs, too

“It’s difficult for us to get a handle on this thing in real-time. I mean, much of the reporting we’re doing isn’t necessarily electronic,” said Dr. Brian Reed, chairman of the clinical sciences department at the University of Houston College of Medicine.

But the numbers are accurate, doctors concur.

Even more, Reed said they still speak to a virus that’s yet to be controlled statewide, including in the Houston area.

“I think it tells us that we still have quite a bit of community spread, meaning that COVID has not necessarily left our state, or left our communities. We still have individuals that we have yet to identify that are passing this infection onto others,” he said.

Local positivity rate down, still more work to do

The Houston Health Department reported the city was making progress Monday toward reducing the local positivity rate, which has trended down since the week of July 31, numbers show.

“While 14.6% is the lowest since June 1, it’s too high, indicating a high level of disease is still spreading in our city,” the health department wrote via Twitter.

Baylor’s McDeavitt agreed it was nowhere near safe levels, but it shows a step in the right direction.

“To reopen schools and begin to lighten up on the economy and do all the things everyone wants to do, we’d really like to be at a positivity rate of less than five percent and a new case rate of less than five percent,” he said.