Editorial: Testing numbers are relevant


While we applaud the work of Wrangell’s health care providers as they prepare for the uncertain times before us, it’s important to remember that they need us as much as we need them.

Every citizen has a part to play in flattening the curve so small hospitals like Wrangell’s aren’t overwhelmed with stricken patients from COVID-19 infections.

Key to flattening the curve is testing symptomatic patients, proper hand washing and social distancing or isolation.

Presently SEARHC does not release testing numbers to the public except in aggregate totals from all of their facilities. While they certainly have the latitude by law to release information as they see fit, we point out that the organization needs to be as transparent as possible so the public knows the extent of testing taking place in Wrangell. SEARHC officials maintain that community specific numbers cannot be released so they can maintain patient confidentiality in line with HIPPA requirements. We feel the chances of health care providers violating patient privacy by the releasing of test numbers is very highly unlikely.

We believe test numbers for Wrangell should be announced daily just as they are in many communities, large and small, throughout Alaska.

An infection prevention professional explained why testing numbers are important to health care providers and the public.

“They’re important numbers that can be the first indicator of what’s going on in a community. If test numbers jump from 2 or 3 per day to 15 a day, we look to see what’s going on,” said the professional.

Conditions from the common cold to COVID-19 reveal themselves to hospitals in the form of phone calls, visits to the clinic or emergency room and in requests for testing. “Really, the number of tests is telling,” the professional explained.

The more COVID-19 tests that are given, combined with repeated negative results are important because they indicate to the public that hand sanitizing and social distancing are working. If no tests are being conducted, there is no accurate measure of virus spread within a community. The public must be given timely test information regularly so each person is aware that their hunkering down is working, or when the percentage of positive tests is on the rise, more people need to shelter in place.

Coronavirus test numbers for individual communities are important for the public to know. Given that this Coronavirus pandemic is expected to kill in excess of 200,000 persons across the U.S., this testing data is a critical piece of information that can easily be provided to the public, without the risk of HIPPA violations.


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