I have been working to interpret and understand some of the numbers provided by the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) for some time. Before I explain, I want to clearly state that I do not believe there is a conspiracy or that there are bad intentions. I have just been trying to understand some of the data. I come from an Information Technology (IT) background so I have an understanding of data, information, and analysis. I have talked about my concerns in detail with a fellow Mayors (and friends) from surrounding counties. The biggest concern we had is with the data concerning recovered patients. We decided we should discuss our issues with a larger group.
I have been working with others to help form a group of Mayors in the Upper Cumberland. The Upper Cumberland County Mayors and Executives represent 14 counties and 360,399 individual Tennesseans. As a group, we talk frequently about issues that affect our constituents and our entire region as a whole. We recently let the State know of concerns we have with the data the TDH is publishing daily regarding the number of recovered cases being reported. In talking with other Mayors and Executives in other regions of the state, we believe the concern is widespread. This data is important in order to have an accurate view of spread and sickness in the community.
To make a long story short, we believe that the recovered data is lagging behind what is reported. In other words, we believe we should have many more recovered cases than reported. This in turn means that our number of active cases would be significantly overstated and that our recovered percentage is understated.
Yesterday during the Governor’s press conference, a reporter asked about this data. Dr. Lisa Piercey, TDH Commissioner, announced that they had heard from several counties about the patient recovered data. In looking in to the matter, they discovered that the criteria for a case changing to a recovered was using the original 21-day guideline. She said they now know that a more accurate account would be 14 days and said we should be hearing more about this in the next few days. Hopefully the change is made to more accurately reflect our circumstances. Good data matters in decision making, and I am thankful our concerns were listened to.
I have also been asked why I use the cumulative positivity rate when reporting. The positivity rate is the number of positive tests divided by the total number of tests. This number can be important to demonstrate if a larger percentage of individuals that are tested are receiving a positive result.
The reason I have been using the cumulative data is that the result returns are sporadic. For example, on Wednesday we received 481 test results in the TDH data and on Thursday we received 421. That is 908 results in two days. That is close to how many specimens the Health Department would collect in a week. Again, this is no conspiracy or ill intent, it’s just how the labs are able to process the tests and the TDH can get it entered. But it can serve to make the data snapshot skewed if people don’t understand that. Those same two days we received positive results on 29 and 31 cases respectively. Those are large jumps in raw numbers, but when you do the math the positivity rate is 6.6 percent, which is lower than the state rate. Today’s rate for Cumberland County was 6%.
It is also important to note that this is the rate for the result date, not the specimen collection date. The specimen collection date is what we would consider the date the test was taken. It is when an individual drives to the Health Department and has the nasal swab. The result date is the date that the lab was able to test the specimen and give a result (positive or negative). That means our positivity rate is based on when the labs complete the testing and when the TDH can get the data reported, not the day the individual was tested. That is why I use the cumulative positivity rate.
I know this is a long update, but I want to say one more thing about mask/face covering mandates. I have considered a mask mandate, but when I do, political controversy or votes don’t come in to play. I am trying to make the best decisions I can. I think that we all want what is best for Cumberland County even though we disagree on what that is at times.
My decision against mandating the use of masks in Cumberland County at this time has not been taken lightly. I firmly believe that following CDC guidelines is something that we should all do. The manner in which mask mandates are operating in other counties is also something to consider.
The Governor delegated the authority to the County Mayors to mandate masks, but has also told us it is not something to enforce but something to be used to show the seriousness of the situation. In essence, it would be another guideline. I believe that would prove to be ineffective in Cumberland County and would likely cause more tension between the two sides.
I agree with the Governor’s earlier comments that mandates can be counterproductive and can cause the opposite action to occur. That is the last thing we need considering the increase in mask usage I have seen.
I recently talked to the Sheriff of a larger city with a mandate and he estimated that at best, 70% were wearing masks – with a mandate. With all of the stores that now have mask requirements, the wearing has increased significantly in Cumberland County. As I’ve stated before, we are blessed to live in a time where we can avoid those places that we feel are unsafe, be it with curbside delivery, etc.
I encourage you to follow all State and CDC guidelines. Wear a mask/face covering in public, maintain social distance, wash your hands frequently, and don’t go out if you are sick.
The following are the numbers from the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) for Cumberland County as of Friday, 8/21/2020 at 2:00 PM.
297 active cases
7 deaths officially reported
669 positive cases
37 hospitalizations *
15,265 negative tests
4.20% cumulative positivity rate (positive cases / positive cases + negative tests)
1.12% of residents have tested positive
0.50% of residents have active cases
These numbers are intended to be a brief summary of the information provided by the Tennessee Department of Health. More detailed information can be found here: https://www.tn.gov/health/cedep/ncov.html
* Hospitalization data reflect the cumulative (total) number of cases of Cumberland County residents that were ever hospitalized from COVID-19. It does not reflect the number of people currently hospitalized. This does not mean the patient was hospitalized in Cumberland County. It means that a Cumberland County resident was hospitalized at some point.
Health Department Testing and Face Coverings
Masks/face coverings can help to slow the spread by slowing or stopping the droplets that carry the virus. Free cloth masks are available upon request at the Health Department for those that want one. Stop by Monday through Friday from 8:00 am until 4:30 pm to pick one up for each individual in your household.
The local Health Department (1503 South Main Street) is conducting drive through testing, free of charge, Monday through Friday from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM. No doctor’s order is required, and no appointment is necessary. Anyone can be tested regardless of symptoms.
Thank you for being part of the solution and thank you for the opportunity to serve as your County Mayor. If you are interested in hearing my thoughts and views on news, events, and activities in Cumberland County, please subscribe to my newsletter, and follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Cumberland County Mayor