QUESTION: Is Alamance County’s coronavirus case count distorted by tests conducted by LabCorp on samples that are shipped in from outside the county.
ANSWER: It seems that inflation is wreaking havoc on just about everything these days. But one thing that may not be “inflated,” at least not in a strictly statistical sense, is the county’s data on coronavirus infections.
At the moment, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services credits Alamance County with a total case count of 51,149 since the start of the pandemic in March of 2020. Of these cases, 45,604 are attributed to positive molecular, or PCR tests, while another 5,540 are chalked up to positive antigen tests. At the moment, the state asserts that it has location data for all of the samples which produced these positive tests.
A lack of location data was nevertheless a problem earlier in the pandemic – and it did, in fact, cause some glaring inaccuracies in Alamance County’s case count that were ultimately attributed to tests which Labcorp conducted on samples from outside the county.
These out-of-county samples were largely responsible for a rather considerable spike in the local case count in April of 2020.
Over the course of a single weekend that month, the county’s cumulative tally of coronavirus infections abruptly shot up from 34 to 84 cases. A couple of days later, the local health department revised the number back down to 43 cases – once the state had factored out the LabCorp test results which were credited to Alamance County in absence of any specific location data.
In the wake of this glitch, Alamance County’s health department issued a formal explanation to account for this seesawing effect in the case data.
“Because LabCorp is headquartered in Alamance County,” the health department noted in a statement that appeared on the county’s website on April 14 of that year, when they have positive communicable disease test results with no address listed, the results default to Burlington.”
The health department added that this automated process resulted in the misallocation of an entire batch of positive test results for which LabCorp had no precise location about where the samples had been collected. The agency added that it expected new procedures to be in place to prevent similar slips from taking place in the future.
“LabCorp, NC DHHS, and [the] Alamance County health department are all working together to remedy this immediate issue and work toward permanent process changes that will reduce the chances of this happening in the future,” the department added in his official statement.
This snafu occurred several months before the arrival of Alamance County’s current health director Tony Lo Giudice, who insists that he isn’t aware of any similar gaffes during his own tenure at the department.
Lo Giudice added that the state’s current case data should be even less susceptible to miscategorized test results since officials in Raleigh no longer look solely at positive lab tests to infer rates of infections. He noted that these alternative measures include things like waste water sampling and symptoms that people report when they visit the hospital. In either case, Lo Giudice insisted that there simply is no reason to think that these metrics are leading to unreliable conclusions for Alamance County.
“During the entire pandemic, the trends here have been in line with the state as a whole,” he went on to explain in an interview Wednesday, “and so we’ve typically seen numbers that have matched the rest of the state.”
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Other recent Public Asks questions and answers:
Does school board member Patsy Simpson still live in Alamance County? (June 30, 2022 edition) https://alamancenews.com/the-public-asks-does-school-board-member-patsy-simpson-still-live-in-alamance-county/
Why can’t sheriff enforce noise ordinance? (May 26, 2022) https://alamancenews.com/the-public-asks-what-keeps-the-sheriff-from-enforcing-alamance-countys-noise-ordinance/