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May 21, 2020
Texas Reopens with Bloated Testing Statistics
as Guiding Factor in GOP Governor's Timeline
Texas Reopening Phase Two
By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor
Testing Tally Was Inflated
By Almost 50,000 in Texas
Before State Gets It Right
The Texas coronavirus testing count took a wrong turn on Thursday when the state corrected a running tally that had been deceptive by making it appear that more people had been tested for active infections than the true number.
The testing tally here had been exaggerated by state officials who'd been adding the number of daily diagnostic and antibody tests together for public reporting purposes when the two should have been separated.
Governor Greg Abbott has touting the testing surge here as the justification for the timing of the reopening process that he's been directing amid the suggestion that the boost in tests has helped the state keep the virus surge at a manageable level.
But the number of tests that the Department of State Health Services had reported earlier Wednesday fell by about 20,000 late in the afternoon when the viral and antibody tests were broken apart by the agency and reported correctly going back for a week.
While the state agency coronavirus dashboard showed the Texas testing count during the pandemic at 800,433 heading into this evening, it also noted that 49,313 of those have been antibody tests - or almost 6.2 percent of the total.
The DSHS only reported the difference between the number of diagnostic and antibody tests for the past eight days. The revised numbers show that an average of 26,442 people tested for both infections and antibodies. Six percent of the daily average in that same span of time were antibody tests.
Governor Greg Abbott has been reopening Texas based on misleading claims on the escalation of testing for the coronavirus around the state.
The Republican governor denied this week that Texas has been inflating the level of testing here by packaging the number of diagnostic and antibody tests into a singular figure for the state's daily progress report.
But the Department of State Health Services acknowledged on the same day that the Texas count had indeed included antibody tests that are used to determine the percentage of people who've been infected at some point regardless of whether they're still infected or have recovered.
Antibody tests are being used to determine whether the COVID-19 spread is starting to slow. But the vast majority of tests for the virus up to now reveal whether people have been infected and haven't recovered regardless of whether they've been sick or asymptomatic.
Abbott gave the appearance that the two types of coronavirus tests hadn't been added together for the running tally on the DSHS web site. The state agency reported that 770,241 people had been tested for the virus by mid-afternoon on Wednesday. That includes 47,200 that were added to the testing count that day - the second highest daily total since Texas decided to make testing a priority in the past two weeks.
But that could be a deceiving statistic in light of the state's admission that it had been counting the diagnostic and antibody tests together and planned to began separating the numbers at some point this week.
Texas had ranked last in the nation in testing two weeks ago before a daily count surge pushed the state up to 40th according to scientists at Johns Hopkins University.
The substantial increase in Texas testing was due in part to Surge Response Teams that Abbott had assembled with state emergency and law enforcement officials and dispatched to hot spots in the Panhandle and East Texas where outbreaks had erupted at meat packing plants.
The coronavirus count tripled in the past week in Walker County where the state corrections system is headquartered with seven separate prisons in Huntsville and the surrounding vicinity.
Abbott has pointed in his last two virus briefings to the difference between the total number of people who've been tested in Texas based on seven-day averages and the percentage that are positive. The governor has said that a steady decline in the positive test rate here is a significant sign that the coronavirus spread is under control and that the state could start to reopen safely as a result.
After hitting its highest point in 18 days at 6.9 percent on April 12, the number had fallen to less than 4.5 percent by Monday when Abbott announced the second phase of the Texas economic resurgence with a green light for bars, gyms, child care facilities, youth camps, professional sports organizations and other businesses and activities to resume in May.
The governor had allowed restaurants, retail stores, malls, barbers, beauty shops and nail salons to open earlier this month with strict capacity limits.
Almost 14 percent of the people who were tested for COVID-19 here had been infected during the week-long period that ended on April 13. The seven-day average had shrunk to 4.7 percent by Wednesday - a rate that would be considered adequate if it hadn't been inaccurate as a consequence of the state's reporting tactics.
Texas reported an average of more than 1,274 new confirmed coronavirus cases over the course of the past week compared to 27,729 tests on average during the past seven days. That equates to 4.6 percent - a number that's meaningless without the ability to separate antibody tests from the count.
The marked improvement in testing that Abbott cited as a major factor in the reopening timetable - as it turns out - has been based on fallacious reporting that makes it an unreliable measuring stick for the intensity of the coronavirus spread.
Texas is not the only state that's had inflated testing numbers. Officials in Virginia and Vermont also have admitted that they'd been combining diagnostic and antibody tests for reporting purposes. The testing figures that Florida and Georgia have reported have come under suspicion as well.
The governor might have thought that he'd been telling the truth from a technical perspective with the way he phrased his insistence on Monday that the diagnostic and antibody test counts were not being factored together.
"The answer is no. They are not comingling those numbers," Abbott said. "Those numbers will be provided separately."
But they apparently had been at the time.