Changes in reporting COVID-19 “recoveries” altered for accuracy, officials say

Local Coronavirus Coverage

(WJHL) – Six months after the first cases of COVID-19 appeared in the state and in our region, officials at the Tennessee Department of Health announced changes in how some of the data is reported.

The department reported the number of COVID-19 “recoveries” for several months alongside metrics such as hospitalizations and deaths from the virus. The department switched gears several weeks ago, causing major shifts in the data and a big drop in the reported “active” cases across the region and the state.

Officials told News Channel 11 that the purpose of the change was to be as “accurate as possible” since community stakeholders and leaders use the number of “active” cases to make decisions surroudning the virus.

Before the criteria changed, the department labeled a case as “recovered” once a patient met two benchmarks: Absense of COVID-19 symptoms over a certain period of time, and minimum of 21 days since symptoms began.

Acting on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, TDH officials announced changes to the criteria as well as an update in terminology: The state would report these cases under the moniker of “inactive/recovered”, and such cases would be classified after symptoms subside and after 14 days since the infection began instead of the previous 21-day criteria.

Findings from the CDC indicate that most patients aren’t infectious 10 days after their symptoms begin. Those with severe to critical illness may remain infectious for up to 20 days.

While recommendations for the study don’t offer any guidance for states reporting “recovered” or “inactive” data, the CDC concludes that isolation precautions may be discontinued 10 days after the onset of symptoms in patients with mild symptoms.

At a Ballad Health press conference on Wednesday, Chief of Infection Prevention Jamie Swift said that the changes in classification from the state will reflect patients who are no longer infectious, not necessarily patients who are “recovered” from the illness.

Officials with the state echoed Swift in statements sent to News Channel 11.

“TDH updated data reporting to provide a more accurate reflection of active, or potentially infectious, cases in a community,” TDH officials wrote in a statement.

The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting pointed out inconsistencies in reporting “recovered” cases across the country in an article published July 10. At the time, Tennessee was one of 19 states that reported “recoveries” using and defined a recovery as being symptom-free for a certain number of days.

Some states, like Virginia, don’t report recoveries at all and those that do, according to the report, don’t use a consistent method to determine a recovery.

Like Tennessee, North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services estimates patients to be recovered based on an estimated median recovery time of 14 days from the day of a COVID-19 test. (Tennessee’s guidelines define this time period from the onset of symptoms for symptomatic patients and 10 days from the date of a test for asymptomatic patients).

On Thursday, TDH reported 151,202 total inactive/recovered cases across the state and 168,237 total cases of COVID-19.

In our region, 6,333 out of the 7,300 total cases are considered inactive/recovered, with 859 active cases reported on Thursday and 108 deaths reported in the region.

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