Virus Outbreak Virginia

A health care worker waits to swab for samples Thursday, March 19, 2020, at a drive-thru coronavirus collection site in Arlington, Va.

(The Center Square) – Virginia still is seeing a downward trend in the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive after changing the way it calculates its numbers, but the revision shows the commonwealth had been inflating its testing capabilities.

The Virginia Department of Health had been including antibody blood tests in its data, which show whether someone had been infected in the past, but not usually whether someone is infected at the time of taking the test.

Gov. Ralph Northam's administration received backlash for including these numbers because they do not accurately represent the trends of positive cases and they inflate the reported testing capabilities of the state, which has had one of the lowest per-capita testing rates in the country.

Antibody tests accounted for about 15,000 of the state’s 184,000 tests, which inflated the reported testing capability by more than 8 percent.

These tests were included in the data that influenced the decision to begin phase one of reopening the economy throughout most of the state Friday. The reopening schedule was primarily based on the percentage of tests coming back positive, but also considered testing capability and other factors.

Following the backlash, the department separated these tests from the data, but Northam said the data still reflect a downward trend in tests that are coming back positive and an upward trend in testing capability.

With the antibody tests included, the state had about a 13.4 percent positive rate based on the most recent seven-day average. Without the antibody tests, the percent positive rate is 15. However, graphs with the antibody tests and without the antibody tests both show a downward trend in percent positive tests, starting about two-thirds of the way through April.

“The important thing for all of us to understand is that when we take out the antibody tests, our trends remain the same,” Northam said. “... The curves look very similar, and we continue to see a downward trend in positive tests.”

“In times of crisis, the single most important currency held by any government is trust," House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, said in a statement. "Trust that leaders are doing the best job they can to get good information. Trust that the actions taken by leaders are guided by a desire to protect the public. Gov. Northam and his team – whether through incompetence or inability – have squandered that currency, and Virginia still remains 47th in testing."

Testing capabilities saw an increase even after the antibody tests were removed. From April 14 to May 12, the seven-day average for people tested daily increased from 2,100 to 5,644.

The total number of beds occupied hit its peak May 14, but still remained far below total bed capacity; 12,116 beds were occupied out of 16,476 available beds. Surge capacity for beds is at 19,771.

Early on, some hospitals reported difficulty in obtaining personal protective equipment, but that number hit zero May 3 and has remained there. The amount of people hospitalized has remained mostly flat, but saw a slight increase in May from April.

The Virginia Department of Health’s most-recent update reported 28,672 COVID-19 cases in the sate, with 3,657 hospitalizations and 977 deaths. The country has at least 88,031 deaths and more than 1.47 million positive cases.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus. COVID-19 symptoms appear within two to 14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, difficulty breathing, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and Tennessee for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.