Tomorrow, City Council is expected to discuss, and possibly adopt agenda item number 19.3. The item, “discussion and action to disclose to the public the daily cumulative positivity rate, daily number of tests administered, weekly reports on names of facilities and businesses that have outbreaks and clusters of COVID-19 positive cases” has generated a few questions from readers of the El Paso Politics.
The question of what daily positivity rate is, and why it is important has been a frequently asked question.
The daily positivity rate is the number of patients tested that test positive for the Coronavirus.
According to John Hopkins University of Medicine, a positivity rate that is high, “may indicate” that Coronavirus testing is only being applied to “the sickest patients who seek medical attention.” In other words, only individuals that are sick are tested. By testing only sick patients who show up seeking medical attention, many others who may be infected – whether showing symptoms or not – are not included in the infection metrics. By testing only the sick, knowing how the virus is spreading throughout the community remains unknown.
In the case of El Paso, knowing how the virus is spreading within El Paso is more difficult because of the transit nature of some members of the community (immigrants and military) and because many avoid medical visits because they cannot afford it. There is also a question about whether the Texas Department of Criminal Justice inmates are being included in the municipality’s datasets. Some immigrant detainees at the El Paso Processing Center seem to have been added to the dataset sometime in June.
John Hopkins adds, “a low positivity in testing data can be seen as a sign” that the community “has sufficient testing capacity for the size of their outbreak and is testing enough of its population to make informed decisions about reopening” the economy.
The El Paso Covid-19 cases dashboard (epstrong.org) shows various metrics. But it is important to note that the information presented is not consistent. For example, the municipality’s dashboard has the disclaimer that “that not all private labs report daily” the number of tests they perform.
Under the tag “Cumulative Positivity Rate” it is unclear whether the metric presented, 9.03%, as of this morning, is a running tally, an average or a daily cumulative percent.
The request by representatives Alexsandra Annello, Casandra Hernandez, and Peter Svarzbein suggests that they are seeking information to see whether the El Paso economy can continue its reopening efforts.
Additionally, there has been some controversy in the community on whether the call centers, one of El Paso’s largest employers, are doing enough to protect their employees.
The Texas Health and Human Services provides a dashboard (dshs.texas.gov/coronavirus/) showing the daily new confirmed cases and the daily new fatalities for Texas and counties.
The information on daily new confirmed cases for Texas shows a small trending decline as of July 19. El Paso, on the other hand, shows an increasing trend for the same period.
As a reminder, city council meetings are virtual due to the pandemic. Members of the public who wish to view the meeting via City15 or online at elpasotexas.gov/videos. To comment on an agenda item, you must call in to +1 915 213 4096 or +1 833 664 9267 and select Conference ID: 651-051-714 followed by the #.