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Ohio Counting Coronavirus Cases Differently, Waiting For New Tests

Dr. Amy Acton said the reported number of coronavirus cases is only the tip of the iceberg, though more will be counted with a new testing system. [Office of Gov. Mike DeWine]
photo of Dr Amy Acton

Ohio officials have started using a coronavirus tracking system that includes probable cases and uses results from a new blood test that looks for the body’s immune response to the virus.

After two days, the new system has added 42 cases to the state’s total. But Ohio Health Director Dr. Amy Acton said the state remains limited by a shortage of testing.

“All of these numbers are a gross underestimation,” Acton said during Friday’s press conference in Columbus. “Until we have full and available testing, we really won’t know.”

As of April 10, Ohio has confirmed 5,878 coronavirus cases, with 5,836 confirmed using the old system. The state has recorded 231 total deaths, with 227 of those confirmed as coronavirus-related under the old system and four under the new system.


Confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ohio


The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) recommended the new system this week. Ohio had only been reporting lab-confirmed cases. The U.S.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended states adopt CSTE’s reporting guidelines.

“Just by way of background, case definitions by the CDC, which guide how states count cases, has been evolving since the beginning of this disease,” Acton said.

Early on, cases had to include travel from Wuhan Province in China, then the definition was expanded to include all of China. Eventually, as the disease spread, travelers from other countries who reported symptoms were counted, until it reached the United States.

In addition to including probable cases, Ohio also will begin counting cases found using a new antibody test that identifies those who may not have had symptoms or had a mild case of COVID-19 and were never tested.

Along with testing sick patients, that antibody test is a key part of the state’s plan to relax the stay-at-home order that’s been in effect since March 23, DeWine and Acton explained.

“That is why we absolutely we need to scale up our testing capability in this country,” Acton said. “Without that valuable tool, it really makes it a lot harder for us to be able to tell if someone has had it and recovered.”

Once there are enough tests and enough personal protective equipment for first responders, hospitals and potential hot spots like nursing homes and prisons, Acton said restrictions can be relaxed.

“We will be able to catch a case right away and then contact all the people who have been exposed to them and that select group can quarantine,” Acton said. “So we really need those tools to truly start to move out of the woods.”

The federal government’s leading infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said Friday the antibody test, which produces results within hours, should be widely available within a week.

Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said Friday he spoke with a company about making the test widely available and that unnamed manufacturer cautioned it would take weeks.

“They said, ‘Look, our experience around the globe is this: that once you develop a test, everybody wants you to go fast and produce it,'” Husted said. “‘But you have to make sure that test has the reliability you need.'”

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.