MORGANTOWN — Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, is among those who have expressed concern about the metric Gov. Jim Justice said will serve as the benchmark for continuing forward steps in his COVID-19 recovery plan – West Virginia Strong: The Comeback.
Hansen expressed his concerns on Facebook and Twitter. His Twitter comments prompted a reply form COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh. Following the exchange, The Dominion Post contacted both for a bit more detail.
Justice’s metric is based on the cumulative percentage of positive COVID-19 test results relative to the total. He wants the percentage to remain below 3%. For example, on Wednesday morning, according the Department of Health and Human Resources, there were 1,095 positive cases out of 42,032 results, for a cumulative rate of 2.61%.
Hansen said on social media, “I’m concerned that using this number may result in reopening the state, even if things take a turn for the worse.”
He explained that the cumulative percentage includes all results reported since the DHHR began keeping track. “Why should we make a decision about reopening the state based on test results from back in March? “
He illustrated this with what he acknowledged is an unlikely hypothetical: Over the course of three days, 3,000 results come in with 300 positives, for a 10% rate. That’s well above 3%, but including it in the cumulative keeps the rate below 3%; so an apparent spike is skewed downward by old data.
“Recent data, not cumulative data, should be used to make a decision about reopening the state,” he said.
On Twitter, Marsh responded, “Thanks for the insight. We look at county- and state-level data daily, helping guide response. Currently, our metrics are tracking well cumulatively and daily, but we know the virus is still there, most of our citizens are not immune, and we have a highly vulnerable population.”
Hansen relied, expressing appreciation for also considering daily data.
Marsh expanded on his thinking in an email exchange with The Dominion Post.
“We are following many metrics daily at the state and county level. This includes ED [emergency departent] utilization, R0 values (now <1) [a measure of how many people an infected person may infect] , active and cases by county as real numbers and percentage of total, ICU capacity, cumulative positives against our historic numbers and nationally, as well as others.
“We review these with the governor too and he/we uses all sources of data that we review daily or more to inform decisions at the community, county and state levels,” Marsh said.
“He is using the metric cumulative percent positive tests/total as a great metric that allows national and regional comparison and that West Virginia residents can follow and help us maintain by their good work and protection to allow us to continue to open the state,” Marsh said.
Marsh echoed and clarified his comments during the Wednesday afternoon press briefing. The R0 (pronounced r-nought or not) value, which stands at .74 (anything less than 1 is desired) shows that the spread has been reduced, and the positive results have trended down in the last eight to nine days. The figures give confidence that – apart from border-county areas such as the Eastern Panhandle and Mon County – the penetration of the virus has not been tremendous.
Justice added that if there would be a sudden spike somewhere, “We’re on top of that.”
Responding to Marsh’s explanation, in an email to The Dominion Post, Hansen repeated his concerns but expressed gratitude that Marsh and others are advising Justice.
“The governor’s written plan uses a single metric to allow the state to move forward with reopening,” Hansen said. “This is a flawed number to use because it’s a cumulative number and includes tests from last week and from last month. Why should we make a decision about reopening the state based on test results from back in March?
“I’m glad that the state is moving toward reopening in a gradual manner,” Hansen aid, “but decisions need to be based on a variety of data. I have great respect for Dr. Marsh, and I’m thankful that he brings a science-based approach to these very difficult decisions.”
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