Duplicate COVID-19 negative tests leaving community members concerned

Published: Oct. 12, 2020 at 7:37 PM EDT
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PUTNAM COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Leaders in one part of our region are improving the odds of students returning to the classroom, but it’s leaving community members concerned.

“Our school’s map does not match with what’s going on in our current communities in the state of West Virginia,” said Lisa Underwood, who’s a nurse.

West Virginia’s School Alert System is a map that parents keep a close eye on, as it determines if students will conduct remote or in-person learning for the week based on the county’s total number of COVID-19 cases.

A series of changes to that map are leaving some concerned.

" When Governor Justice has tweaked the map week after week, it’s giving the community a false sense of security about where we are at as a community with the number of cases," Underwood said.

The Harvard map laid the groundwork for West Virginia’s map. It’s known as the path to zero, because until you have zero cases, the counties will never turn green.

State leaders made two tweaks to West Virginia’s map in an effort to show what they call a fair picture of the community spread.

One of those tweaks allows counties to use the better of the two metrics to determine their county color. The first is the new total daily rate of positive cases, or the other the percent of positive cases.

Health officials say the reason for this tweak was to increase the number of people getting tested.

“If we had just done the Harvard map, we would have a third or half of our schools, and our state would be shut down right now,” Justice said.

Underwood says she’s seen social media posts encouraging people to flood testing sites to help drive down the numbers. One of those posts came from a Putnam County School board member.

Board Member Christian Wells did confirm to WSAZ he posted online, encouraging people to get tested for a clearer community picture.

“If you only get tested if you’re sick, then of course the numbers are going to drive upward and we aren’t going to be in school. We aren’t going to be representative of what’s going on,” said Putnam County School Board Member Christian Wells. “In order to get a good representation of the community and community spread, you need as many people to get tested so you know what’s going on. I was encouraging people to get tested for that very reason. I think we need to be in school.”

Wells says he got tested multiple times in one week after he was out of town, but he admits his family goes every week to help show an accurate picture of cases in Putnam County.

WSAZ reached out to the Putnam County School Board for comment on Well’s posts. It issued the following statement: “The Board’s administration has no comment on statements made, in a personal capacity, by individual board members or employees.”

Testing is a top priority of Justice.

“There is nothing wrong with people flooding testing sites because they want to go back to school,” Justice said. “The beauty of everything is the more they flood, the more we will find spreaders. I love it, I love it to death.”

However, the governor says he won’t tolerate people manipulating the system. In an investigation last week, Justice says the state found about a dozen people abused the system.

Underwood believes inundating test sites is not the solution.

“If people are intentionally going out there to manipulate the numbers, this is no different than fraud, waste, and abuse of Medicare dollars because this comes from taxpayers' money from the CARES act,” Underwood said. “Again, it’s a waste of resources, a waste of PPE, and the time spent by these people that are spending hours out at these testing sites.”

The DHHR says it has policies in place to help with accuracy.

According to the DHHR, the state removes people who’ve tested positive more than once, but duplicate negatives tests are not removed from the state’s total case counts.

Governor Justice is staying firm with the state’s need for people to get tested.

“I’m going to get tested. Hopefully, I’m not positive and I keep my family clear. If it helps the numbers out and we can continue to go to school, that’s just a positive," Wells said.

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