By Adam Strunk
Tuesday morning, Newton School Board members questioned the accuracy of Harvey County Health Department COVID-19 statistics, as they differed from the state’s. Member Mallory Morton floated switching to state provided information as suggested by state epidemiologists.
Tuesday afternoon, the health department came back with a strong message: The state’s information isn’t always correct.
“We are finding that the KDHE is classifying negative cases to our county,” Health Department Director Lynnette Redington said. “That’s not correct. We’re finding that we have negative cases that are not our county’s.”
As had been reported by Newton Now last week, the county, as well as the state, both track a “percent positive” statistic for Harvey County. School districts across the county are using that statistic to determine how their school attendance plans will work each or every other week.
The statistic is supposed to outline the percentage of those testing positive for COVID-19 as a way of tracking increases in the disease.
The county and state have differed by hundreds of negative tests over weeks and months. In turn, the state percent positive rate has often been lower than the county’s rate.
The difference in rates would have resulted in Newton schools conducting full in-person classes, should it have used state data that showed an 8.45 percent positive. It settled on hybrid learning for grades 7-12, based on the county data, which showed a 10.2 percent test positive rate on Tuesday morning.
At the meeting, USD-373 Superintendent Fred Van Ranken said the district should get an explanation of those differences from the county, but if that wasn’t satisfactory, switch to the state.
At its Tuesday press conference, the county health department director gave a detailed defense of county data, stating that the state has incorrectly attributed cases to Harvey County.
She said that there are currently 100 tests for example the state classifies with the county that lack full demographic information with them.
“We’re trying to figure out why they were even noted to Harvey County,” she said. Redington added said the county has already found some of those cases also do not involve county residents.
Redington said they also have been compiling the two-week percent positive statistics the way KDHE had told them.
“Our understanding was that is how the percent positive was going to be figured at the early beginnings of COVID-19 from our KDHE partners,” she said. “At this point, they have a different definition of that and we’re trying hard to get our data collected and clean so we can go the route KDHE is going.”
Redington said the county uses the number of positive tests and divides it by the number of individuals tested.”
She said the state was dividing the number of positive tests by the total number of negative tests. Some individuals are tested multiple times for COVID-19 before testing positive.
She gave a new number in her explanation previously not mentioned by the county. While it has tested 4,764 individuals, 6,902 total tests had been conducted.
She said she believed that those two differences would account for the differences in the two governments’ differing data.
During the conference, she noted that the county gets immediate communication from local health care providers, but the state receives private information first.
“That’s why we’re checking that database early and often for new cases,” she said.
She said that the county is currently combing through its data from March to get the state to use correct data. She added that it was working with its own data to make sure it was more in line with the state. However, if there was any confusion during the meeting, Redington made it clear the county’s position on the data it provides its citizens.
“The information you’re seeing on the Harvey County dashboard is the most accurate for Harvey County when we are reporting it and it’s out there.”