If you want information on COVID-19 cases in your area you may have access to regular in-depth details or only occasional bare-bones numbers.
It depends on where you live.
Few details reported in Chelan and Douglas counties
In Chelan and Douglas counties, the Chelan-Douglas Health District is the reporting agency for COVID-19 cases.
Most often, that has meant data only on the number of people who have tested positive and how many have died from the virus.
Sometimes, several days pass before those numbers are updated.
Most details on positive tests and the two deaths in Chelan County have come separately from health care providers or other affected agencies or families.
For example, the ages and hometowns of the two people who have died from the virus in Chelan County were provided by Confluence Health.
Grant County issues town-by-town numbers
In neighboring Grant County it is much different.
The Grant County Health District has been quick to update not only the number of confirmed cases but breaks them down by town, age and gender.
Grant County, which has been hard hit by the virus, also provides numbers on negative tests, probable positive tests, number of people hospitalized and the number of pending test results.
The Grant County Health District has not yet responded to questions about their approach to reporting.
Why doesn’t Chelan-Douglas report more information?
When asked last week on their Facebook page why they don’t provide more detail on their cases or testing, the Chelan-Douglas Health District said there is little value to the public from such information.
“Chelan-Douglas Health District has received requests to disclose the city or even neighborhood of patients testing positive for the COVID-19 virus. We might do this if it would tell you anything useful, but in fact it does not,” the district replied. “There are more cases of COVID out there than testing can identify. This is partly because many COVID cases have few symptoms, or none at all. But those unknowable cases are still contagious. So if you want to know whether your town or neighborhood has COVID cases, the answer is yes.”
The district went on to say if you knew there were cases in your neighborhood it would not change the precautions everyone should be taking.
Also, releasing such details could compromise the privacy of patients, the district said.
Veronica Farias, public information officer with the Chelan-Douglas Health District, said Tuesday that statement, which is now posted on the district’s website, remains the position of the health district.
Other counties in Washington also vary on what they report.
Some counties provide extensive detail, others don’t
The Spokane Regional Health District provides in-depth detail on cases in Spokane County, including the number of people hospitalized by the virus.
King County, the state’s most populous and where COVID-19 has hit the hardest, provides extensive daily information that includes a map breaking down cases and testing by individual areas of the county.
More than philosophy on reporting COVID-19 cases and testing, larger counties like Spokane and King also have more resources.
Lewis County, which is similar to Chelan County in population, also provides few details other than positive tests on its website but has issued press releases when there are additional confirmed cases.
Their Tuesday press release reporting three new cases said all the patients were in their 50s and 60s.
Lewis County now has 10 total cases but says only 500 of its 79,000 residents have been tested.
Okanogan County, a county with a population of just over 41,000, reports the number of positive cases, samples sent for testing, negative results and results that are pending.
State Department of Health says information is valuable
The Washington State Department of Health reports in-depth data, graphs and maps on cases and testing.
Their daily breakdown of county-by county positive tests, however, is dependent on county reports so the state numbers often lack current numbers from some counties.
The Department of Health has gone two days, as of Tuesday, without reporting any new numbers and says that’s because they’re now tracking even more information, including negative COVID-19 results.
That, it said, has temporarily overwhelmed their system. They are looking for solutions so they can begin resume regular updates, the department posted.
As for why the state reports in-depth information, Danielle Koenig, public information officer for the Department of Health, says that’s the approach they take during all outbreaks, such as flu and whooping cough.
“Collecting and sharing information about communicable diseases is important because it enables public health agencies to act to prevent the spread of disease, and it provides an overall picture of disease trends at the local, state and national levels,” Koenig said. “It can show where a disease is spreading and how quickly so researchers and public health officials can respond, members of the public can make informed decisions about travel and healthy behaviors, and the media can have accurate information.”