High volume of tests results is overwhelming DOH reporting system, causing a delay in statewide counts

A surge in testing for COVID-19 in Washington has uncovered hundreds of new cases over the past couple of weeks, but that increase has created a backlog in the state’s reporting system.

While officials at the Department of Health are working to post new numbers daily, they have run in to some challenges with the Washington Disease Reporting System.

Typically, outside of a pandemic, only positive results are reported to the Department of Health. But the sheer volume of negative tests run for potential COVID-19 cases have overwhelmed the system. As of its last update, March 28, a total of 65,462 tests had been run. As of March 30, 1,507 of those tests were run in Kitsap County.

Health officials said Tuesday that they are working with vendors to help increase the reporting system’s capacity and are looking at a separate system for negative test results, which account for approximately 93 percent of all results.

Positive cases of coronavirus continue to be uncovered as testing has ramped up, suggesting the virus is present in the state at a greater level than has been reported.

“It’s hard to tell if it’s a surge of activity or if we just hadn’t been testing enough over the previous weeks to see it at a lower level,” said Dr. Kathy Lofy, Health Officer at the Washington Department of Health.

State officials, include Gov. Jay Inslee, believe the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” executive orders are working and that many Washingtonians are following them.

Although Inslee warned of stepped-up enforcement at a Monday press conference, the Bellevue-based Institute for Disease Modeling noted the number of new COVID-19 transmissions had dropped in correlation with social distancing protocols.

Compliance has been more difficult to track in rural areas with smaller, sparse population, where residents are less likely to encounter large groups on a daily basis. The DOH has been tracking it using data from the state highways and ferry and bus system along with social media data.

“It is a little difficult to determine that in rural counties,” Lofy said. “We’re using a variety of data sources to determine whether people are staying home and staying healthy.”