Lawmakers asked why the state’s number — which has tumbled since the height of the pandemic — is routinely lower than that of other sources.
Del. Shane E. Pendergrass (D-Howard), chairwoman of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, told Jinlene Chan, deputy health secretary, that she often wondered why the number of positive cases and the number of negative cases do not add up to the number of tests taken.
“It seems cryptic,” she said. “There is something missing.”
Chan said the state’s methodology has remained the same since the first case was reported in the spring. “We have been consistent from the very beginning,” she said.
Pendergrass interjected: “There is consistency. Your numbers consistently don’t add up.”
Chan defended the methodology, saying state officials divide the total number of people who test positive by the total number of tests reported to them in a day.
According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, which studies daily testing trends in states and nationally, the “ideal way” to calculate positivity would be to use the number of people who test positive divided by the number of people who are tested. Hopkins has taken its approach because, it says, some states include duplicate tests from the same person.
On Wednesday, Maryland’s positivity rate stood at 3.61 percent, according to the state Health Department. The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center records Maryland’s positivity rate at 5.3 percent.
Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said that as the state continues to battle the pandemic, “clarity on this question is crucial.”
The state, which reached its highest positivity rate of 26.92 percent in April, reported Wednesday that 23 of 24 jurisdictions in Maryland are below 5 percent, with Prince George’s County’s positivity rate at 5.54 percent.
“We picked a methodology that we believe is the most correct and the most stable for us,” Chan said.
In Washington, members of the D.C. Council on Wednesday asked Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt about the city’s slow progress in identifying sources of new coronavirus infections, which could lead to shutting down activities such as indoor dining.
For weeks, Nesbitt has said the city would ban certain activities if data from contact tracing showed the need for it, but the city has not added restrictions. The reason, Nesbitt said, is that the Health Department hasn’t determined which activities are leading to infections.
“We still have a very difficult time creating for our population what their source of exposure is,” she said on a call with council members. “When I have something I can raise that recommends anything be scaled back, I will do that.”
In response to questioning from council members, she added: “Sometimes the tone and the tenor of these questions are completely insulting, as if we are not doing our level best to stem the tide. We’re trying to do our best to communicate how hard we are working to get ahead of this thing.”
Nesbitt said the Health Department is doing what it can, including making visits to workplaces if more than one employee at a business contracts the virus. She cited research that the department is conducting to determine what activities infected people have participated in — potentially spreading it to others — as opposed to what activities led someone to catch the virus.
In a sample of 100 people, she said that 24 had eaten inside a restaurant while they were infectious; at least five were government employees who went to work; and 10 had traveled by plane, train or other mode of transport.
The city’s emergency management director, Christopher Rodriguez, told council members the city is in frequent communication with organizers of an Aug. 28 civil rights rally planned in D.C., to try to ensure the mass gathering won’t spread the disease.
“We do recognize there are risks to mass gatherings. We also recognize the First Amendment, constitutionally protected rights of people to gather,” he said, adding that the city is working “to make sure that the rally is carried out in a way that’s as safe as possible.”
D.C., Maryland and Virginia reported a total of 1,380 coronavirus cases Wednesday, as well as 16 additional fatalities. D.C. reported 63 cases and no deaths, Maryland reported 541 cases and eight deaths, and Virginia reported 776 cases and eight deaths.
Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.