JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – While admitting his department had combined state testing data, Dr. Randall Williams, the director of the Department of Health and Senior Services, blamed the Center for Disease Control for telling his staff to do so in a statement on May 23.
State officials have clarified test reporting, now separating virus testing with antibody testing. Williams said in a statement that his staff had been directed to combine the data by the CDC.
“As a 30-year clinician, and like many fellow clinicians nationally, I was very concerned that the CDC had specifically advised our staff and those among other states to combine these results. I believe that the CDC clearly knows these represent two very distinct clinical entities,” Williams said in a statement.
However, the health director told reporters in a state news conference on Thursday, May 21 that the state was not combining data. In the video, Williams is asked if the numbers tracked on the website, the Missouri COVID-19 Dashboard, included antibody testing.
“It does not include antibody testing. About four states have gotten into a lot of trouble because they tried to conflate their numbers, I think to drive up their numbers, and we don’t do that here in Missouri,” Williams said.
However, his statement on May 23 appears to imply that he didn’t know that is exactly what was happening.
“Upon me and our leadership as well as those from our state public health laboratory discovering the combined data set, we immediately corrected the way we report this information to the public and will continue to report it this way, as our leadership originally intended,” he said.
Until now, staff working on the case count had combined virus testing with antibody testing. Virus testing, or PCR testing, shows who currently has the virus. Antibody testing, or Serology testing, shows who has had it and developed antibodies.
Combining numbers skews data when creating a percentage of how many people have tested positive, since the number of positive tests are only taken from virus testing. This number is confirmed on the Missouri dashboard, where the “Lab Confirmed Cases in Missouri” matches the “Individuals with Positive PCR Results” at 11,751 as of May 23.