Knowledge is power and that’s something that Guilford County and the State of North Carolina have very little of right now when it comes to accurate numbers on coronavirus testing.
As of Thursday, March 19, three people in Guilford County had tested positive for the coronavirus. Is that three people out of five tests given or three people out of 500 tests given? Or maybe out of 5,000? Disturbingly, no one has any idea how many tests have been given in the county. That number is hugely important since knowing the ratio of positives to the number of tests given gives county officials some idea of the scope of the problem in Guilford County.
The problem is this: Early on, when all the virus tests were being processed through the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each test had to be reported to the Guilford County Division of Public Health. However, recently, private labs and health providers began conducting the tests, and those are not being reported to the county. Positive tests do have to be reported – which is how county officials know there have been three cases of the disease here.
However, it became crystal clear at the Board of Commissioners meeting on Thursday, March 19 that the number of tests that have been conducted isn’t known. It was a number that several commissioners asked county staff about, but the only answer they got to that question was that no one has a clue.
Commissioners Carolyn Coleman, Skip Alston and Chairman of the Board Jeff Phillips all repeatedly tried to get some clarity on the number, but it was to no avail.
Phillips said county staff should attempt to learn the number and suggested that, even if private labs weren’t required by law to inform the health department of test totals, many would no doubt do so in a collaborative effort.
Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing said the problem reached up to the state level as well.
“They admitted at the state level that that had gotten away from them,” Lawing told the board. “The state could not tell you how many had been given – they knew how many had been deemed positive.”
He said Governor Roy Cooper had tasked his staff to “get their arms around that.”
Lawing added that current stats are not reliable.
“We’ve heard different numbers – we don’t have a lot of confidence in those right now,” he said.
Other countries around the world, and many other cities, counties and states across the US, are able to provide accurate numbers regarding total tests given. Maybe someday Guilford County and the State of North Carolina will also have good information on the life and death matter.