Officials: Spike in Lowndes COVID numbers misleading

 

James Martin

James Martin

 

Amy Bogue

Amy Bogue

 

 

Tess Vrbin

 

 

Lowndes County saw 180 new confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus last week, a notable spike from 34 new cases the previous week, while surrounding counties and the rest of the state saw small decreases or much smaller increases in the numbers of new cases.

 

As of Saturday at 6 p.m., Lowndes County had 1,579 confirmed cases, compared to 1,399 as of Sept. 19 and 1,364 as of Sept. 12, according to data on the Mississippi State Department of Health website.

 

However, state epidemiologist Paul Byers said MSDH advises against trying to determine trends based on the numbers of new cases in a county over the course of a day or a week.

 

 

"There is often a reporting lag, which can make a county appear to have significant increases," Byers said.

 

Mississippi had 96,859 cases as of Saturday, up 3,495 from the 93,364 cases on Sept. 19. The state added 3,346 new cases from Sept. 13 to Sept. 19.

 

Oktibbeha County saw 51 new cases last week, a slight decrease from 56 the previous week, and Clay County had 18 new cases compared to 34 over the same time frame.

 

The average weekly hospitalizations due to COVID-19 and use of ventilators to treat patients with the illness have gone down both locally and statewide, said Dr. James Martin, chief medical officer at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle.

 

"(You) should not look at the number of cases, since we have such a high percentage of false positives," Martin said.

 

A source of false positives is the rapid antigen test for COVID-19 that is becoming more available nationwide. Both Baptist and the Allegro Family Clinic in Columbus have been using rapid tests the past few weeks.

 

Allegro Vice President Amy Bogue said the clinic conducts a regular COVID-19 test on every person who tests negative with a rapid test in case the first result is incorrect.

 

From Sept. 14 to Sept. 25, Allegro had 42 positive cases after issuing 406 tests. This is the clinic's lowest two-week positivity rate since it first began testing for the virus several months ago, Bogue said.

 

About 500 people statewide are hospitalized with COVID-19, fewer than 150 are in intensive care units and 80 are on ventilators, Martin said, and all these statistics "are down significantly." He attributed the local spike to late reporting as well as false positives.

 

Additionally, COVID-19 cases are added to a county's case count "based on the patient's county of residence that is reported in the positive lab report," but those numbers can change if a person who tests positive "provides a more accurate physical address during their case investigation," said Elizabeth Grey, the division director of Emergency Preparedness Communications at MSDH.

 

Similarly, Mississippi State University does not count all its positive COVID cases as Oktibbeha County cases, MSU Chief Communications Officer Sid Salter said.

 

"It is our understanding that wherever the patient indicates their address to be is the county in which the cases are counted by MSDH," he said.

 

However, Bogue said all positive cases at Allegro Clinic have been submitted to the state as Lowndes County cases, since she was under the impression that was a requirement.

 

When asked, Martin did not provide The Dispatch with information about how Baptist logs its positive cases in the state's county data.

 

 

 

 

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