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TDH changes format for reporting COVID cases

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer

For nearly six months, COVID-19 has spread across the state of Tennessee. From the time the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) reported the first positive case in Johnson County in late March, residents have been inundated with data and statistics. 
Every afternoon, TDH releases a spreadsheet of information to let us know the severity of the situation. To some, the numbers released cause even more confusion.

“We’re pleased to be adding new reports to help support rapid public health actions in Tennessee communities,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey, MD, MBA, FAAP. “We also want to promote data transparency and help Tennesseans understand the reason case counts for some counties will change as we correct information based on their addresses.”

According to the governor’s office, the new format released last week will reflect a change in how active cases are calculated and a correction in the county of residence for some cases. One of the most noticeable changes was the new data reporting “Inactive/Recovered” cases. Previously, TDH considered a case recovered after 21 days; however, beginning with the September 3 report, TDH case count reports will include people who are 14 days or more beyond their illness onset date. It also applies for asymptomatic cases, their specimen collection date, which will more closely align with what is now understood about the infectious period of COVID-19, as recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show most patients with COVID-19 are no longer infectious after ten days.

The reported averages can also be confusing, especially when considering averages and the rolling 14-day average of COVID-19 cases. “The 14-day average, which is listed on the Long Term Care Facility Data tab,” explained Caroline Hurt, County Director, Carter and Johnson County Health Departments, “is obtained by adding up the previous 14 day new cases and dividing that number by 14.” The formula renders an average number of New COVID-19 cases per day. However, the rate is a little more challenging to determine as it is the average number of new cases per 100,000 people in Johnson County. Since Johnson County does not have a population of 100,000, this rate is calculated by taking the total number of cases for the county divided by the current population. Then it is then multiplied by 100,000.

TDH has also changed hospitalizations reporting. Instead of releasing total hospitalizations since the beginning of the pandemic, it will now release data on current hospitalizations. There will also be new information included on the state’s novel coronavirus website that will give expanded knowledge of local cases. The latest data set will consist of individual county data snapshots with information on case counts and hospitalizations. The data also includes details on where each county stands percentage-wise compared to statewide numbers.

Tennessee Department of Education’s website plans to launch a new dashboard this week, which “will display information reported by districts about COVID-19 in their communities, and whether or how positive cases within a school may impact the way teachers deliver instruction to students, A map feature will allow users to drill down to the school level, Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn said. Visit the Tennessee Department of Health online at www.tn.gov/health.