Houston Chronicle Data Team’s COVID-19 Numbers FAQ

The Houston Chronicle’s data team provides answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

Why is the Chronicle’s case count, and the daily increase, always higher than the state publishes?

For most counties, the Chronicle relies on data from the Texas Department of State and Health Services for the number of coronavirus cases and deaths.

These status numbers are supplemented by data collected directly from around 20 counties daily. This explains most of the difference between the newspaper’s numbers and those of the state.

The DSHS daily count reflects the totals for the previous day. The data collected directly from the counties is more current.

In addition, counties often note when certain numbers are excluded from their counts for various reasons. This allows the Chronicle to detect these exceptions and include them in the counts.

Are the number of new cases increasing due to the increase in testing?

No. While the seven-day average of new cases has increased significantly, the moving average of tests performed per day has remained roughly stable. This means that there has not been an increase in the number of people tested equal to the number of new cases.

Since Memorial Day, the mobile average number of new cases has increased by more than 150%, from 944 cases to 2,365. At the same time, the average number of new tests has increased from 28,329 to almost 31,500, or about 11%.

The state’s test data also includes antibody tests, which check if someone has antibodies to fight COVID-19. Antibody test results show who had the virus, not new infections.

The best way to understand how tests affect the number of new infections is to look only at the number of viral tests performed.

The average number of viral tests has increased from 22,516 to 28,727 since Memorial Day. Although this is a significant increase, it is not large enough to explain the increase in the average number of cases.

In addition, the rate of positive viral tests has increased since Memorial Day, from about 4.3% positive to 6.7%. Lower rate of positive tests would mean that there are enough tests to get an accurate measure of the spread of the virus and any increase in cases could be explained by an increase in testing. If the virus does not spread, an increase in testing would show a stable or decreasing number of positives.

But most of these new cases aren’t serious, are they? Are state medical facilities not always able to handle new cases?

Coronavirus hospitalizations have increased since Memorial Day, rising nearly 70% to 2,793 patients on Tuesday.

Bexar County, for example, reported a record number of hospitalizations on Tuesday with 212 patients, including 82 in intensive care.

In Harris County, 1,079 people were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected coronavirus cases as of June 16, more than doubling the number of patients since Memorial Day, according to data from the SouthEast Texas Regional Advisory Council.

The state still has sufficient capacity for inpatients, with more than 13,800 beds available and 1,473 intensive care beds. There are nearly 5,900 ventilators available, according to DSHS data.

However, these figures are for the entire state. Some areas are approaching or exceeding their capacity for hospitalizations.

Aren’t most of the cases reported by the Chronicle already recovered?

According to the latest DSHS figures, around 60,681 people have recovered from the coronavirus. This means that of more than 95,000 cases in Texas, about two-thirds have recovered. The others are either active cases or deaths.

Tuesday there was 2,045 deaths in Texas due to the coronavirus, leaving more than 30,000 active cases.

However, this is a state estimate based on assumptions about hospitalization rates and other factors.

Doesn’t Texas have far fewer cases than other states?

In relation to its population, yes. In terms of absolute cases, Texas is sixth in the country, behind much smaller states like New Jersey and Massachusetts.

However, Texas has performed about 1.3 million viral tests on a population of about 29 million people. With less than five percent of the population having been tested, it’s impossible to know what the true prevalence of the coronavirus is in Texas.

In Massachusetts, about 10 percent of the population has been tested while 12.7% of New Jersey residents have been tested. In California, about seven percent of the population has been tested.

So yes, Texas has fewer cases relative to its population, but it has also performed fewer tests relative to its population.

Don’t most of the new cases come from inmates or nursing homes? Why doesn’t the Chronicle know which cases are detainees and which are non-detainees?

This is a state and county level data integrity issue.

DSHS has been inconsistent over whether the number of cases they release daily includes inmates.

Through reports, the Chronicle discovered that some counties included inmate cases while others did not. Some counties have reported inmate cases and then suddenly removed them from their case count. Other counties added them all at once. This has led to some confusion as to the accuracy of the data provided by the DSHS. Additionally, as inmates cross county borders, the way these cases are tracked changes.

The June 16 update included 1,476 previously unreported cases of Texas Department of Criminal Justice inmates. But the state did not provide data on when these cases occurred.

It is therefore difficult to determine which cases are from inmate or non-inmate.

With regard to long-term care facilities, the state has started releasing number of cases in retirement homes and assisted living centers in mid-May. This therefore makes it easier to see what proportion of cases these establishments include.

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