HealthcareStatewide NewsTexas Coronavirus Positivity Rate Spikes with Plummeting Tests, But Hospitalizations Improve

While coronavirus hospitalizations show Texas is moving in a good direction, a drop in more widespread testing has led to a higher positivity rate.
August 12, 2020
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After the surge of COVID-19 cases throughout June and July, Texas is showing clear signs of recovery with a falling number of daily new deaths and active hospitalizations.

Positive rates, meanwhile, have surged to their highest levels amidst a noticeable drop in testing.

Hospitalizations

According to the data published by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), coronavirus-related hospitalizations peaked on July 22 at a total of 10,893.

On the following day, the state reported 8,858 hospitalizations, but noted that the number was not complete “due to a transition in reporting to comply with new federal requirements.”

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DSHS said that only 85 percent of hospitals reported complete data on July 23, and there was a similar amount of incomplete data over the following several days.

However, by the end of July, the state indicated that it was reporting complete hospitalization data that was heading in a downward direction.

As of August 11, the state reported 7,216 hospitalizations, a 34 percent drop from the peak less than three weeks ago.

Notably, the hospitalization rate — that is, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients out of the total number of estimated active cases — has continued to decline since early July even with active cases declining since a peak on July 24.

Fatalities

The number of coronavirus-related fatalities in Texas peaked on July 14 with 221 deaths, and the number of new deaths each day has slowly declined since.

DSHS changed its method for reporting fatalities on July 27.

Before then, the state relied on local and county health departments to report new fatalities and would then report the collected data.

The old method caused significant delays in reporting fatalities, which led to inaccurate trend lines. 

If DSHS still used that method today, it would give the impression that the number of new fatalities each day is continuing to increase rather than beginning to curve downward.

The new method pulls data directly from death certificates, which allows the information to be gathered more efficiently and also provides more demographic data.

A third of all deaths have been among individuals more than 80 years old, and only eight percent have been among individuals younger than 50.

Only nine deaths — or one-tenth of one percent — have been among individuals younger than 20.

The demographic data does not include information on other underlying health factors.

Although more efficient than its previous method for collecting information on deaths, the new method from DSHS is not without errors. On July 30, the department had to remove 225 deaths that were incorrectly added.

Testing and Positive Rate

Since the beginning of August, the amount of testing being conducted in the state has plummeted, which has likely been the contributing factor for the corresponding hike in the positive rate during the same time frame.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Governor Greg Abbott pointed to the “surge testing” that was conducted in May and June, including the mandatory testing conducted in all nursing homes and an emergency boost in testing in certain “hot spots” in the state, such as the Rio Grande Valley.

“The robust, large number of tests that you saw come back in July were the result of those surge testing operations combined with testing every nursing home in the state of Texas,” said Abbott.

With the decreased surge testing, it is probable that a greater proportion of recent tests has been limited to individuals displaying COVID-19 symptoms who are already more likely to be infected with the virus.

Abbott said that, “What you can expect going forward is another likely increase in the number of tests,” citing more surge testing that is beginning in Harris County.

The governor also said that more “quick turnaround” tests would be used soon in nursing homes and that he was working with labs in the state to prepare for COVID-19 testing in schools.

“Going forward in September, or maybe before then, you should anticipate seeing another increase in the number of people being tested,” said Abbott.

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Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.