Virginia reveals new way of reporting testing, metric for tracking progress to phase 1 of reopening plan

Coronavirus

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC/WAVY) — After being ranked at near the bottom of the list of states in the U.S. for their testing capacity, Virginia revealed a new metric on Friday for which they will be measuring testing.

Why this matters: testing and case numbers will determine when businesses are allowed to begin opening back up.

New metrics to track reopening progress, new way of reporting testing

Northam says Monday (May 4) will bring a clearer picture of when Virginia can start phase one of reopening — which requires a decrease in the number of positive tests compared to total tests for 14 days — a change from initially focusing on downward trend of daily reported cases. Health officials expect there to be more daily reported cases alongside increases in testing, so the percentage of positive tests to total tests can paint a better picture of progress.

However, the number of positive tests compared to total tests statistic is not displayed on the Virginia Department of Health’s website, which updated Friday with a new look and more detailed cases numbers and graphs for localities. North Carolina’s website displays this statistic and shows a downward trend since April 19.

Northam also pointed out that other states’ phase 1 plans include steps that Virginia has already allowed in some capacity. Construction sites were never shut down in Virginia compared to other states and Virginia’s beaches were never fully shut down (exercise and fishing are allowed). Virginia’s stay-at-home order, which applies to beaches, is still in effect until June 10.

Virginia reported nearly 15,000 tests on Friday, though Northam says that only about 5,800 new people were tested in a 24-hour period as part of that number. The reason for the large spike in testing reported Friday (14,805) compared to previous days is that the methodology in which testing is reported has changed, officials say.

State Health Commissioner Norm Oliver says that before the change, though a COVID-19 patient may get tested multiple times over the course of treatment, the Virginia Health Department was only reporting the sum of the patient’s tests as one single test.

If other states have been reporting testing figures by number of tests instead of patients, unlike Virginia before this new change, it could explain why Virginia was one of the worst states in the U.S. for testing per capita, a spokesperson said.

Daily cases and reopening the economy

According to a nationwide database, Virginia is one of fourteen states in which new COVID-19 cases are still doubling every two weeks or less. That’s a grim picture compared to early U.S. hot spots like New York, where cases are now doubling each month. 

The database shows neighbors to the north like Delaware and Maryland are also seeing a doubling of cases every two weeks. Meanwhile, many Southwest Virginia counties have seen their curves flatten as Tennessee begins to ease coronavirus restrictions across the border. 

On Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam said he’s yet to make a decision on reopening the economy regionally. He said he plans to announce more details about phase one of the economic reopening on Monday, though his administration has already implemented some elements by allowing elective surgeries to resume.

The good news for Virginia, according to Northam, is that the pandemic growth rate continues to slow compared to previous weeks and hospitalizations remain flat. 

“As you can see, we’re looking at a number of data points and they aren’t always consistent but we are making progress,” Northam said. “Case counts continue to climb but so does testing. We have slowed spread but we aren’t out of the woods yet.”

PPE and testing supplies

The governor said the state is making significant progress on obtaining personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing supplies.

He said the state is getting three new PPE cleaning systems from the federal government that should be operational by next week. He said masks can be reused up to 20 times without deteriorating and the state will be able to decontaminate about 240 thousand each day.

“A stable supply is key to moving forward and you can see we’re in good shape and getting better everyday,” Northam said.

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