Counting COVID-19 testing cases on county level would be helpful

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Wayne Knuckles, Editor/Publisher

Is Rabun County incredibly lucky, or is our COVID-19 case count severely underreported?

The answer may be that it’s a little bit of both.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the Georgia Dept. of Public Health District 2 website was reporting eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 locally, with no fatalities.

Compare that to neighboring Habersham County (107 cases), Stephens (41 cases), White (31 cases) and Towns (15 cases), and Rabun County’s numbers look to be skewering abnormally low.

However, as with everything involving numbers, it’s often how you compile and evaluate the data.

In an article elsewhere in this week’s paper, we reported on how District 2 compiles and makes public their COVID-19 testing data.

Their website is the official State of Georgia information source for COVID-19 cases.

Basically, universal COVID-19 testing—tests made available to anyone who might request one—is not available. Without universal testing, it is impossible to know the true number of COVID-19 cases in Rabun County or any other.

There is no information available on the total number of COVID-19 tests that have been performed to date on a county-by-county basis. A spokesman for District 2 said Tuesday they are not breaking out the number of tests by county, because it’s more “efficient” to report them on a statewide basis.

Further, the spokesman indicated that the numbers posted on the District 2 website twice daily are not being produced in real time, and may well be lagging behind because of verification and other issues.

Basically, it’s pretty safe, given the lack of hard data available, to surmise that there are more than eight cases of COVID-19 in Rabun County, but how far off that might be from the actual number is impossible to say with any degree of certainty.

Some readers have expressed their frustrations with the lack of detailed data on local COVID-19 testing recently.

One went so far as to post a half-dozen or so color-coded charts from Texas on our social media site, showing COVID-19 cases in individual counties broken down by age, gender, etc., that is made public daily. Great stuff indeed. But it should be noted that this type of detailed analysis is simply not available for Rabun County and many others at this time. We further noted that this particular county has a population of approximately 1 million, so it’s hardly an apples-to-apples comparison.

If you can find a verified source for reporting the number of COVID-19 tests that have been performed for Rabun County residents so far, please send it to me. I’ve looked, and I don’t think it exists, but I’d love to be wrong.

With that missing piece of the puzzle, we could form a more reliable opinion on whether our COVID-19 case numbers are in the ballpark or wildly misleading. If you agree, it wouldn’t hurt to point this out to our state officials who are responsible for the Department of Public Health. You can find contact info elsewhere on this page.

As it now stands, we are left to make an educated guess, and yours is probably as good as mine.

I noted over the weekend that in general, our little corner of the world, including our neighbors in South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee, is generally reporting fewer COVID-19 cases than many parts of the Southeastern United States at this time.

Given that, our population and our rural nature, I think there are probably a lot more COVID-19 cases in Rabun County than have been discovered so far through testing, but it is entirely plausible that our numbers are significantly lower than many other communities.

For the record, as of Tuesday, GDPH confirms 19,881 positive results in Georgia, with 3,799 requiring hospitalization and 799 deaths due to COVID-19.

Please stay safe.

Wayne Knuckles is the editor and publisher of The Clayton Tribune.