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Department of Health temporarily pauses reporting of negative COVID-19 test results

For immediate release: November 21, 2020 (20-226)

Media contact: Frank Ameduri, Communications, 360-522-3750

Department of Health temporarily pauses reporting of negative COVID-19 test results

OLYMPIA – The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is asking the state’s laboratories that conduct the largest volume of tests to temporarily stop sending individual negative COVID-19 test results, and instead send us the aggregate number of negative test results per day. During this time, our dashboards will report positive cases each day, but not the total number of daily tests or percent positive.

Our disease reporting system can receive and process approximately 33,000 total results per day. We are currently receiving 30-50 thousand records per day, leading to a backlog. As of Saturday, there are 53,000 backlogged results which accumulated over two days. They are a mix of negative and positive COVID-19 tests, and test results for other notifiable conditions such as tuberculosis. Testing volumes are expected to increase further in the coming weeks because both disease and demand for testing are increasing, and more testing sites and types of testing are coming online across our state. We have been working to expand the system’s capacity to receive additional results in anticipation of a surge, but recent disease growth and the associated testing volumes have outpaced our efforts. Without this pause, we will fall further behind.

We need to take this temporary step to ensure state and local public health officials receive positive results for all reportable conditions in a timely enough manner to carry out effective case investigations and contact tracing and to have real time visibility of the incidence and trajectory of COVID-19 cases (positive results) as well as other reportable disease cases.

The backlog of results means that the number of new COVID-19 cases reported the last two days is an undercount and likely does not reflect disease trends. Our temporary action will ensure we receive positive COVID-19 results and the DOH dashboard of the epidemiologic curve and the Governor’s Risk Assessment dashboard of the rate per 100,000 newly diagnosed cases reflect disease trends.

It is important to note that in addition to case and testing data, we have, and regularly look at, data from many different data sources to help us understand the scope, breadth, and direction of the pandemic. These include test positivity data submitted directly to the federal government by laboratories, data on emergency department visits for COVID-19 symptoms, and data on new hospitalizations for COVID-19 and total COVID-19 bed occupancy reported daily by hospitals. These data sources continue to show exponential growth of COVID-19 spread and COVID-19 patients in the hospital. 

It is also important to note that persons testing for COVID-19 receive their results from their health care provider or testing sites. Anyone testing positive for COVID-19 should isolate for at least 10 days since the onset of their symptoms and at least 24 hours after fever has resolved without using fever-reducing medication and that other symptoms of COVID-19 are improving, before they resume contact with others.

 

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