Breaking down the COVID-19 numbers


There are so many different numbers related to Coronavirus and many of the numbers change everyday so it can be difficult to understand it all.

For example, there are tens of thousands of COVID-19 cases reported in South Carolina and Georgia and the totals for both states keeps going up. Some of you have asked for clarification since some of the patients from those totals have already recovered.

This is just one example of how the COVID-19 numbers can be confusing so we asked Augusta University Health’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Philip Coule to help us break down the numbers.

Cumulative Number of COVID-19 Cases vs. Newly Reported Number Each Day

GEORGIA: The graphic to the right shows the cumulative cases over time. You can see how the number keeps going up. Since this is a report of the aggregate number it will only go up or stabalize. Dr. Coule says with this graph, the important thing to look at is the rate of increase. You can see the incline has started to level off recently.

The graph to the left shows the newly confirmed COVID-19 cases over time in Georgia. Dr. Coule says the important thing to focus on with this graph is the downward trend, which started around April 20th. Dr. Coule points out, this decline is happening even though testing efforts have increased. He says the really good news for Georgia can be seen in the sharp decline from the last few days.

SOUTH CAROLINA: In the graph to the right, the red line represents the cumulative total. Just like in GA, the cumulative total has continued to go up; however, South Carolina does not have a tapering off in its rate of increase like Georgia currently does. The blue bars represent the new cases for each day. There is a downward trend in the newly reported SC cases, but it is less noticeable.

Number of Hospitalizations vs. Number of People at Home

GEORGIA: Of the 25,159 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 1,114 were admitted to the ICU and 4,921 were hospitalized.
SOUTH CAROLINA: 21% of COVID-19 patients were hospitalized and 79% were not. Majority of people in both sates recovered at home.

“The important thing to look at is are we seeing an increased number of hospitalizations and currently the answer to that question is no,” says Dr. Coule. “In fact, our numbers at Augusta University Medical Center have been declining in terms of in patients. Our patients are doing well, coming off the ventilator. We’ve been able to discharge those patients and only have about 17 in the house.”

Individual Institutions’ Numbers vs. States Total Numbers

You might have noticed a discrepancy between the COVID-19 numbers reported by individual institutions like hospitals and nursing homes and the state numbers. That is because each institution is much closer to their respective cases. A hospital can report it’s cases relatively quickly. The state health agencies have to get the information from the various organizations, process it and publish it which takes time.

“Early on, this was very manual,” Dr. Coule explains. “We literally had to have somebody sit there and enter every positive case in the system.”

Dr. Coule says the process had more delays in the beginning that it does now. He says thankfully now there is more automated systems in place.

SC Tracks Recovery Rate vs. GA Does Not Track Recovery Rate

Each state differs in what kind of information it records and how the state records the various information . For example, South Carolina records a recovery rate, but Georgia does not.

On Wednesday April 29th, South Carolina’s recovery rate was 76% and the percentage changes daily.

The Georgia Department of Public health explains why the agency does not track recovery rate:

Unfortunately, we do not have a way to track recoveries. There are a couple of problems – since most people have not been tested, we don’t truly know how many people are infected, so we can’t say with any accuracy how many have recovered. Add to that, 1 out of 4 people with COVID-19 doesn’t have symptoms, so that makes knowing how many people are actually infected even more difficult.

Additionally, we know when people are hospitalized, but we are not notified when their course of care ends and they are released, in essence recovered.

The bottom line is –  information on positive tests and deaths is easily accessible and updated often by the CDC, state Health Departments and county health districts – the data on recoveries is much harder to quantify.

GA DPH Spokesperson

Photojournalist Gary Hipps

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