State grapples with inconsistent data in forecasting COVID-19 comeback

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Governor Eric Holcomb has said he will depend on the data and the best advice of his medical and commerce advisors when determining the best time to gradually reopen Indiana in the aftermath of the COVID-19 virus surge.

But what if the numbers are incomplete and inconsistent?

Medical data analysts review the daily statistics published by the Indiana State Department of Health as well as tracking models to forecast the path of the coronavirus through the state and the potential date on the calendar when it might be safe for Hoosiers to once again come out of their homes.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington recommends May 20th as the date when Indiana could begin relaxing its social distancing order.

Last weekend that recommended date was May 25th and the change would indicate the success Governor Holcomb’s stay-at-home order has had in battling back the disease.

Dr. Shaun Grannis, Vice President of Data and Analytics a the Regenstrief Institute and one of the collaborators of a tracking model developed by the Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI, closely monitors the rate at which the virus is striking Hoosiers.”

“The doubling rate is how many days does it take to double the cases starting today,” said Dr. Grannis, noting the current number of new cases in the state stood at 394 today. “So how many days at 400 or 500 would it take to double 12,000 (positive cases) and that’s over 20 days.”

The current timetable for doubling is 27 days, a number that has steadily grown, an indication that social distancing orders are working.

ISDH reports there have been 69,470 conronavirus tests conducted in Indiana over the last six weeks with 12,438 results.

That’s about an 18% positive return.

For two consecutive days ISDH has cautioned that its daily report on the number of new positive cases should not be considered accurate due to technology glitches, though State Health Commissioner Dr. Kristina Box said today those issues had been resolved.

The ISDH statistics showed the number of positive tests had steadily declined since April 19th.

In Marion County, where one out of every three positive cases in the state were recorded, three times in the last nine days ISDH has actually subtracted from its running total of tests given in Indianapolis, resulting in 1295 cases that disappeared off the county’s total.

When ISDH was questioned about this discrepancy, the state’s Joint Information Center responded, “Occasionally, we have to correct the listing when we are notified of an erroneous entry, duplication or updated information, such as if an individual’s county of residence is incorrectly listed by the submitter.”

“The Fairbanks model does show the rates continuing to go down,” said Dr. Grannis. “We have to have in place good testing, good contact tracing, we have to be able to isolate people and we’ve got to continue to limit the size of groups that are gathering.

“This shelter-in-home approach is primarily aimed at reducing rate, its reducing the speed with which the disease spreads. It doesn’t promise to reduce the total number of overall cases,” he said. “We’re getting in place our testing, our tracing, or isolation approaches, our ability to monitor for local outbreaks, and now in May, when its appropriate, we’re gonna start opening the gates back up”

The Fairbanks model predicts the coronavirus patient surge to hit Indianapolis next week and the rest of the state by the middle of next month.

The IHME model indicates today is the peak day for hospitalizations in Indiana.

During Governor Holcomb’s daily briefing, Dr. Box said that its possible the virus infected its first Hoosier in mid-February, several weeks before doctors spotted the pandemic in Indiana, and that the state’s fatality count may see increases in the days ahead not necessarily due to the lethality of the infection but rather the reclassifying of a number of deaths that have occurred and in retrospect have been identified since the outbreak began.

“The death statistics tend to lag behind the case statistics,” said Dr. Grannis. “I wouldn’t trace the death rate as an indicator of what’s currently happening because those numbers tend to lag behind by a bit…but fundamentally we want to see the number of total new tests continue to decline.”

To date, 661 Hoosiers have been identified as losing their lives to the coronavirus, 214 of them in Marion County.

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