Virginia health officials release virus data by test type

Coronavirus

A traveller uses hand sanitizer from a dispenser at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia’s health department has released coronavirus case data broken down by the type of test used after drawing criticism for the way it was compiling its results.

Officials separated the data into results from diagnostic and antibody tests for the first time on Thursday, according to a statement from the state’s health department. Journalists and experts raised concerns this week that combining the data could impact the assessment of the virus’ spread and the appearance of the state’s testing capacity, news outlets reported.

Diagnostic tests look for traces of the virus in samples gathered from a patient’s nose or throat using swabs, while antibody tests look for blood proteins that indicate whether a patient was previously infected.

Scientists remain divided over antibody tests, citing varying reliability among the many tests that have recently been developed, as well as questions surrounding the degree to which the presence of antibodies ensures future immunity.

Antibody tests made up less than 9% of the overall tests recorded in Virginia’s data, the department said in its statement. Officials added that separating those numbers from the total number of positive tests had a “minimal change” on the data and caused “no difference in overall trends.”

Gov. Ralph Northam said Thursday that both diagnostic and antibody test data have been reported “since the beginning of this health crisis.” He said he moved to have the data separated after “recently” finding out that they were being combined.

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