The positivity rate of COVID-19 tests is a key metric for understanding how the virus is spreading, and how prevalent infections are in the community.
The Florida Department of Health reports the positivity rate of coronavirus tests each day — which is supposed to show the number of positive tests compared to the number of total tests.
This week, the accuracy of the state’s positivity reporting has come into question.
A review of state data shows many small, private labs have been reporting only their positive results to the state — skewing the positivity rate higher.
Even after this issue came to light earlier this week, several dozen labs are still reporting 100% positivity rates, according to a review of Friday’s DOH data.
“Today alone there are 98 labs reporting positive results, accounting for 355 positive tests,” said Jon Taylor, a PhD student at Florida Atlantic University.
“It should be concerning,” he said. “We are basing decisions off of the positivity rate, and we need to know why some labs are reporting 100 percent positive tests.”
Taylor has been working with FAU Finance Professor Dr. Rebel Cole on their own COVID tracker.
“We will provide a deeper dive into the metrics,” said Dr. Cole.
They take issue not only with the unexplained outliers in the positive lab results but also the way the DOH presents hospitalizations and deaths.
For example, the DOH reports new deaths each day, but not all of those deaths actually occurred in the same 24 hour period.
Cole and Taylor say when you look at the actual death dates, they are more spread out over time.
“When you look at how the deaths are spread across time, you can see there’s never been a day in Florida with more than 89 deaths,” Taylor said.
The FAU COVID tracker is expected to go live next week.
While Dr. Cole said the small labs reporting 100 percent positive tests are not likely to affect the overall state positivity rate in a huge way, it still undermines trust in the numbers.
“When you lose the confidence of the people, it ruins your message,” he said. “It’s very dangerous when the people don’t trust what the government is telling them. It’s just a hot mess.”
Earlier this week, Governor Ron DeSantis acknowledged the issue and said his administration was working to make sure it was corrected.