As Gov. Jared Polis stood before the television cameras this week to announce the statewide stay-at-home order in response to the coronavirus pandemic, he fielded a question about when mandated isolation would end.
“We will make that call based on the real data that we receive,” he said.
For weeks, Polis has tackled this pandemic like the tech entrepreneur he used to be, consuming large amounts of data to inform his decisions. This week, he mentioned that the state is looking at traffic data and cell phone data to determine the effectiveness of stay-at-home orders. And the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment maintains a data website providing daily tallies of coronavirus cases across the state.
Despite this numbers-heavy approach, Colorado’s response has been hindered by an incomplete understanding of some figures. What it means is that the state — like many others across the country — is struggling to get an accurate projection for the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
There are inconsistencies in the numbers CDPHE provides to the public every day on the pandemic. For instance, the state has included some people who are suspected of being infected but have not actually tested positive for COVID-19 in its tally of confirmed cases.
There is a lag of sometimes days between when local health departments report new cases or deaths and when they appear in CDPHE’s numbers. Cases that were reported by local health officials in Rio Grande County on Monday didn’t appear in CDPHE’s total until Thursday; a case in Costilla County reported Thursday morning did not appear in CDPHE’s update that afternoon.
And the state has not been posting information about the total number of tests being run by private labs, meaning researchers looking at Colorado’s data don’t know the ratio of positive to negative tests.
Many of these problems can be traced to the nation’s lack of a plan for widespread COVID-19 testing, state officials say.
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