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CDC combines virus tests and muddies the U.S. pandemic picture

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CDC combines virus tests and muddies the U.S. pandemic picture

FILE — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta, on Feb. 28, 2020. Shockingly sloppy laboratory practices at the CDC caused contamination that rendered the nation’s first coronavirus tests ineffective, federal officials confirmed on Saturday, April 18. WASHINGTON – As it tracks the coronavirus’ spread, the CDC is combining tests that detect active infection with those that detect recovery — a system that muddies the pandemic picture but raises the percentage of Americans tested as President Donald Trump boasts about testing.

Now that serology tests, which look for antibodies in the blood of people who have recovered, are more widespread, CDC officials said Friday they will work to separate them from the results of diagnostic tests, which detect active infection. One of the agency’s data tracker websites has been lumping them together.

Stunned epidemiologists say data from antibody tests and active virus tests should never be mixed because diagnostic testing seeks to quantify the amount of active disease in the population. Serological testing can also be unreliable. And patients who have had both diagnostic and serology tests would be counted twice in the totals.

“It just doesn’t make any sense; all of us are really baffled,” said Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at the University of Florida.

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Epidemiologists, state health officials and a CDC spokeswoman said there was no ill intent; they attributed the flawed reporting system to confusion and fatigue in overworked state and local health departments that typically track infections — not tests — during outbreaks. The CDC relies on states to report their data.

If the agency intended to bolster the testing numbers for political purposes, the advantage to […]

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