As the pandemic continues to surge uncontrolled throughout the state, Albany County’s case count is exploding. But some metrics for measuring the spread suggest that the county is not testing enough and that there are likely undetected cases helping to spread the disease.
It’s difficult to know how much a county or state should be testing for the virus, but public health experts look at the percentage of tests that come back positive as one indicator.
That number should be less than 5%, said Christine Porter, a public health researcher at the University of Wyoming.
“The positivity rate tells you if you’re testing enough to actually know or have a good sense of what proportion of the population is infected,” she said. “So, the higher the positivity rate, then the less likely it is that you are getting a good picture of what percent of the population in that area has COVID.”
Albany County’s two-week rolling average sat at 6% Friday, Nov. 13, when the Department of Health last updated numbers.
Albany County Public Health Officer Jean Allais said this positivity rate is especially concerning because it is trending upward.
“The percent positive rate gives us an indication of how much spread there is in the community, and it also tells us whether we need to do more testing,” Allais said. “If the rate is high, that means there is a lot of spread in the community, but there are also cases in the community who are not being tested, and testing needs to be increased.”
Despite a worryingly high positivity rate, Albany County is doing better — on the testing front, at least — than much of the state. Albany County has completed more than 70,000 tests, which is significantly higher than the next county, Fremont, which has conducted fewer than 47,000.
Porter said this is thanks in large part to the university’s rigorous testing program, in which employees are tested weekly and students twice a week.
“Albany County has so many cases, so we’re doing quite poorly in terms of our disease-load and the spread, but we’re doing a pretty good job in terms of the number of tests we give,” Porter said. “But if you get to a positivity rate of over 5%, you are not doing enough testing to be monitoring the real extent of your disease.”
The state’s positivity rate was about 12% Friday, Nov. 13, while several individual counties saw rates significantly higher. Campbell County, for example, has a 30% positivity rate, while Johnson and Lincoln counties are the only two below the 5% threshold.
“That percentage is an important indicator of the spread we are seeing of the virus in Wyoming right now,” said Kim Deti, a spokesperson for the Wyoming Department of Health. “The virus is clearly circulating within our communities at concerning levels. We also have seen increased hospitalizations and increased deaths.”
According to the latest numbers released by the department, Albany County has more than 1,400 active cases. There have now been eight deaths in the county, following the announcement of two additional deaths by the department Saturday morning.
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