SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. — From the beginning of the novel coronavirus pandemic, various health agencies at the local, state, national and even international level have worked to track cases and deaths from the virus.
But people are curious about one number that isn't widely reported: people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and went on to recover.
This has led some to question if these public health agencies are even trying to track these patients that have beaten the coronavirus, including those who have recovered in Spokane County.
After being asked by many KREM viewers about this data, we set out to verify if the Spokane Regional Health District and other agencies keep track of these cases.
To verify how coronavirus recoveries are tracked - or if they are even tracked at all - we reached out to epidemiologist Dr. Anna Halloran and Division Director Steve Smith with the Spokane Regional Health District.
We also used data from the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, which tracks tests, cases, deaths and recoveries around the world.
How recoveries are tracked in Spokane, worldwide
According to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, the United States had about 1.4 million confirmed cases of the virus at about noon on Wednesday. At the same time, there were about 83,000 deaths and 230,000 recoveries in the U.S., according to the university.
Here in Washington state, there have been 962 deaths as of Wednesday afternoon, but data on those who have recovered remains unknown.
According to Smith and Halloran, there's a few reasons why recoveries aren't closely tracked.
First of all, state and local health officials primarily focus on testing and contact tracing to slow the spread of the virus. Halloran and Smith said they're interested in the recovery data, but they don't have the resources to follow up with all patients.
"I worry a little bit about people getting caught up in what exactly this recovered number means, because I think some people think that is implies that there's a follow up that's happening with individuals who have tested positive for COVID, which is not resource possible for us," Halloran said.
Instead, local health officials rely on a basic equation to come up with a number, or in Spokane County's case, a percentage, of those who had the virus and recovered.
"The definition of a recovered person is strictly just a mathematical definition. So it's just functional: it's 28 days since the onset of someone's symptom, and that person is not hospitalized at the end of those 28 days, and they have not passed away," Halloran said. "So it's really just a calculation based upon the number of cases and how long it's been since their onset had occurred and whether or not they ended up hospitalized."
Put another way, the data on recoveries isn't precise, as those who didn't require medical treatment will likely not be contacted and included in the count.
Local health officials also don't see it as their highest priority, but Halloran said they understand the number is of great public interest.
"To me, I think that this was a number that was asked for by the public and that is why we put it on our website. I don't think that we're using the recovered percentage in any of our decision making, because ...I'm at a loss in seeing what the utility is," Halloran said.
As of Wednesday at 2 p.m., the health district's website listed the percentage of those who have recovered at 72.6 percent.
KREM can verify that the Spokane Regional Health District does track recoveries, but public health officials are prioritizing resources to test and track active cases instead of tracking those who have recovered.
Have a question for our VERIFY team? Email it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org