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New case reporting for COVID-19 in Washington state

For immediate release: March 7, 2020 (20-030)

Contact: Joint Information Center, 253-512-7100 (for media only)Español Call center for members of the public: dial 1-800-525-0127 and press #

New case reporting for COVID-19 in Washington state

OLYMPIA – Tomorrow the Washington State Department of Health will begin reporting COVID-19 case numbers at a new time with new metrics. In a daily web update at 2 p.m., the department will provide statewide numbers for:

  • Cases and deaths broken down by county
  • Cases by age range (in 10-year increments)
  • Cases by sex at birth
  • Total number of patients tested (some patients may have multiple tests)

The afternoon web update will include all information reported through midnight the previous day. Cases are reported to the state by local health departments, who lead the epidemiology investigations for residents of their counties. Deaths are also reported to local health officials first in most cases.

As new counties get cases of COVID-19 and more labs begin testing for the virus, the epidemiologists who track statewide data are gathering and analyzing information from many sources. They must work closely with local health departments and labs to make sure statewide data is accurate and complete.

Health care providers, medical examiners/coroners, local health departments or others may publicly announce cases or deaths before they are included in the statewide count. Your local health jurisdiction is a great source of information, and may report more details on specific cases than the state.

In order to provide case counts as quickly and efficiently as possible, the department has also stopped reporting some of the numbers available earlier in the outbreak. As of earlier this week, the state no longer reports the number of persons under investigation (PUIs)—people who may have been exposed to COVID-19 and had tests pending.

When testing was centralized at CDC, limited to people who met certain criteria and took longer to get results, the number of pending tests was easy to track. As those conditions changed, staff began using the time they’d spent tracking pending tests to focus on collecting the data most critical to the public health response.

As of today, the state has also stopped reporting the “number of people under public health supervision.” That number currently only includes people who have recently traveled to China and are included in federal quarantine guidance issued in February, a population that has been decreasing quickly and does not include travelers from other countries affected by COVID-19.

Those public health resources will be redirected to case investigation and management. Local public health officials will continue tracing close contacts of new cases as part of their case investigation process.

Providing accurate and timely public information in a rapidly changing situation is a top priority for health officials. As the statewide response changes to meet current needs, there may be additional changes to numbers reported.

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