Home Coronavirus So Much for The Atlantic’s “Juked” Story?

So Much for The Atlantic’s “Juked” Story?

It turns out that the CDC itself, as well as "several" (many?) states have been "blending" PCR and antibody tests numbers - or are unclear as to what they're doing.

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by Cindy and Lowell

Last Wednesday, The Atlantic posted a story about how, supposedly, Virginia had “juked its COVID-19 data,” “combining results from viral and antibody tests in the same statistic” and “threaten[ing] to confound America’s understanding of the pandemic.” The Atlantic story further reported:

No other state aside from Virginia has admitted to counting antibody tests in their overall totals. We do know, however, that large numbers of antibody tests are being completed in the U.S. but not reported to the public by most states…It’s possible that Virginia is alone in its reporting methodology, but until we know how many states are dumping antibody tests in their totals, the White House’s claims that the U.S. has overcome its testing plateau cannot be given full weight.”

And, The Atlantic strongly implied, the Northam administration was being self-serving and even dishonest in some way:

We could not find evidence that other states are blending test results in the way that Mercer claimed. In an email, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Health claimed that Arizona, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia also mingled viral and antibody results. This is false: Those three governments either separate out, or do not report, the result of negative antibody tests to the public.”

Well, as it turns out…check out *today’s* The Atlantic, which reports (bolding added by us for emphasis):

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conflating the results of two different types of coronavirus tests, distorting several important metrics and providing the country with an inaccurate picture of the state of the pandemic. We’ve learned that the CDC is making, at best, a debilitating mistake: combining test results that diagnose current coronavirus infections with test results that measure whether someone has ever had the virus.
  • Several states—including Pennsylvania, the site of one of the country’s largest outbreaks, as well as Texas, Georgia, and Vermont—are blending the data in the same way…Maine similarly separated its data on Wednesday...The public-radio station WLRN, in Miami, first reported that the CDC was mixing viral and antibody test results. Pennsylvania’s and Maine’s decisions to mix the two tests have not been previously reported.”

So…basically, The Atlantic is now confirming that Virginia wasn’t unique in any way, nor was the Northam administration being nefarious, dishonest, etc.  In fact, as it turns out, the CDC itself (!) is “conflating the results of two different types of coronavirus tests,” as are “several states.” There’s no indication, by the way, how many states “several” might be, but it could be a lot of them. For now, the ones cited in The Atlantic are just the ones they have done enough “due diligence” on to know how those states report (e.g., separating out or combining results of different types of COVID-19 tests). But a quick check of a few random states shows that it’s not at all clear whether they’re including both types of tests (“PCR” and “antibody”) or only one type of test (presumably, “PCR”), and whether they’re breaking out the different types of tests. For instance, checx out:

  • Connecticut: Has “COVID-19 Tests Reported,” no sign of any breakout by type of test.
  • Nevada: Has “Tests Peformed,” no sign of any breakout by type of test.
  • Alabama: Has “Total Tested,” no sign of any breakout by type of test.
  • Hawaii: Has “Total Number of Tests Performed,” no sign of any breakout by type of test.
  • Missouri: Has “Daily COVID-19 Test Results,” no sign of any breakout by type of test.
  • Minnesota: Refers to “Tests,” but no sign of any breakout by type of test.
  • Maryland: Refers to “test results,” but no sign of any breakout by type of test.

So, it’s not immediately clear what other states are doing, at least if you look at their COVID-19 dashboards, which simply report “tests,” “tests reported,” “test results,” etc., with no indication as to what is/is not being included. Of course, this presumes that both viral (“PCR”) and antibody tests are being performed in every state, which seems like a reasonable assumption. The next question is whether states are collecting data on both types of tests, and if so, how are they treating them? Mostly, it seems like there’s lack of clarity on that front when you look at states’ COVID-19 dashboard.

But anyway, whatever the answer, the bottom line is that The Atlantic’s decision to single out ONE state (Virginia) at random, act as if something particularly unusual/untoward was happening here, and even write a whole article accusing Gov. Northam’s administration of *intentionally* “juking” the data for apparently self-serving or even nefarious reasons, really jumps out as unusual, somewhat strange, and possibly even irresponsible. Also, to come out a week later with a new article basically countering their previous article, but still not including any sort of retraction or correction – let alone an apology – for the original article, also doesn’t seem to be up to The Atlantic’s usual high standards. What’s the deal?