15% of state’s total COVID-19 tests were actually antibody test, investigation finds

The Georgia Department of Health is looking into its testing data again now that there are new questions about data that may have been mixed.

ATLANTA — The Georgia Department of Health is looking into its testing data again, now that there are new questions about data that may have been mixed.

State health officials confirmed that tests for the COVID-19 antibody have been included in the total number of coronavirus tests taken across Georgia.

In a statement issued Wednesday a spokeswoman said:

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“The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) has received reports of antibody tests since early April and, following current Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention methodology, has included the tests received in the “Total Tests” number currently listed on the DPH COVID-19 Daily Status Report. DPH staff is currently working diligently to provide greater transparency in the molecular and serologic testing data displayed on the Daily Status Report. One of our top priorities is to provide accurate and timely data to the public and we will continue to make every effort to do so.”

Late Wednesday, DPH confirmed that the antibody tests accounted for 57,000 tests in the state’s totals -- which makes up roughly 15% of the total number of tests.

According to the Department of Health website, roughly 3% of Georgians have been tested for COVID-19.

Director of Health Director Dr. Kathleen Toomey says she’s trying to get to the bottom of it.

“I don’t want you to think I’m hiding anything. I’m actually still learning about this, literally over the past few hours, so I’m trying to understand really where we are with this,” Toomey told Channel 2 Action News in an exclusive interview.

Doctor Harry Heiman with the Georgia State University School of Public Health told Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr that mixing the data is problematic because the coronavirus tuest is about current infections and the antibody test gives you a window into the past.

“When you throw both of those into the total number of tests taken you’re creating a very confusing picture, both of how many people are being tested and what that test reflects,” Heiman said. “The here and now is important because that’s how we assess the trajectory of the pandemic in our state and across the country.”

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This is not the first issue with the data being reported by the state. On Tuesday evening, Gov. Brian Kemp answered our questions about test results. Positive antibody test results had been included in the state’s tally of how many Georgians have the virus.

“That shouldn’t have been in the count. That was something that was fixed very quickly. I would just urge the public to be very patient. We’ve been very transparent. Every number that we’ve got is on our website,” Kemp told Channel 2 anchor Justin Farmer.

Toomey says the data on the state website is just one tool helping state leaders make decisions about COVID-19.

“To me the most important things about this website is it’s a tool. It’s not the Holy Grail. It gives us information that can help guide our policy,” Toomey said.

Heiman says its critical that the state balance accuracy and keeping the public informed.

“I think what the public and professionals want is both transparency and clarity about the data they’re getting."

Toomey said she may have more answers at the governor’s weekly news conference scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

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Gov. Brian Kemp said he is optimistic about the direction of our state as it continues to reopen amid the coronavirus shutdown.