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Can we get an accurate picture of COVID cases without daily numbers? An infectious disease specialist weighs in

Dr. Threlkeld said hospitalization numbers provides some of the most valuable pieces of information available during this pandemic.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Omicron is raging across the U.S and the contagious variant hasn’t skipped Shelby County. Tuesday, the Shelby County Health Department reported just over 400 new cases – the day before it was over 1,500. 

But are we getting an accurate picture of COVID’s spike with not all COVID numbers being reported daily?

“There’s no question there’s a surge of cases, we just hope that that won’t be accompanied with a surge in hospitalizations and deaths that we saw for example with the delta variant,” said Dr. Steve Threlkeld, an infectious disease specialist at Baptist Memorial Hospital.  

Threlkeld said hospitalization numbers provides some of the most valuable pieces of information available during this pandemic.

But while new adult and pediatric cases and positivity rates are included in COVID numbers the health department is releasing, unlike previous surges, daily hospitalizations are not being reported.  Those numbers are only released once a week. 

“We’ve gone up from the hospital where I’m sitting at, Baptist Memphis, from 11 [then] after delta to about 50 today.” 

It’s important to note the health department receives its hospitalization reporting data from HRTS or the Hospital Resource Tracking System.

Since data on COVID patients come from hospitals throughout Memphis metro not just Shelby County.  

“We certainly are continuing to give out the numbers from this hospital and it tends to be fairly proportional for the other places in town,” Threlkeld said. “They’ve increased there’s no question about that to a tune of maybe 4 or more fold from what we saw from a time a bit ago.”

But the infectious doctor said the more data the better. 

When it comes to the COVID numbers we are getting, don’t forget the health department’s number on positive tests doesn’t include a growing number of people who are using at-home test kits.

“That’s not as big a problem to me,” said Threlkeld. “I would much rather have people realize they were positive, not report it and take themselves out of circulation for 5 or 7 days than you would have those cases infecting other people.”

ABC 24 asked the health department if it plans to work to provide daily hospitalization numbers in light of the recent COVID spike – a spokesperson said not at this time.

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