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'It's Frustrating': Bexar County Adds 5,000 COVID-19 Cases From Backlog As Texas Disagrees On Data

Mayor Ron Nirenberg speaks at a COVID-19 briefing on July 16, 2020 about a backlog that led to more than 5,000 cases being reported in one day.
Joey Palacios | Texas Public Radio
Mayor Ron Nirenberg speaks at a COVID-19 briefing on July 16, 2020 about a backlog that led to more than 5,000 cases being reported in one day.

San Antonio Metro Health added a staggering 5,501 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday night. Of those cases, 691 are actually new and the remainder are attributed to a state backlog of test reporting.

The new cases are two weeks old and were previously unreported. It brings the total case count to 27,047. Backlogs of test results have not been uncommon during the pandemic and caused occasional sharp spikes in the daily reporting of cases. Recent daily tests have fluctuated between 500 and 900 new cases each day. Previously, Bexar County’s highest daily count was 1,334 on July 3. 

The sudden increase caused San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg to express frustration with the state. 

On Thursday night, Nirenberg said when officials at the state and federal level question what to include in testing data, it seems like an attempt to suppress the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s frustrating. We’ve seen a number of these backlogs happen, and you know, quite honestly, we’re examining these data on a daily basis. We want to make sure we are consistent, and the delay in these data is making that very difficult on us. I know our Metro Health Department has been working double-time just to sort out data,“ Nirenberg said.

Although the new cases were added, Bexar County saw a decrease in its hospitalizations. There are about 30 fewer people in hospitals from Wednesday to Thursday, with a current count of 1,201. The number of total hospitalizations seems to be forming a plateau after weeks of sharp increases.

Nirenberg called the decrease a “good” trend but said hospital systems are still under severe stress.

The addition of 5,000 or so cases is complicated via a disagreement between the way San Antonio Metro Health and the State of Texas reports positive cases.

Metro Health uses two different types of tests to represent positive cases: positive molecular test (PCR) and antigen. 

“Antigen tests quickly identify people who are currently infected with the coronavirus by detecting proteins from the virus in nose and throat secretions. This is the same technology used in your doctor's office for rapid strep testing. By contrast, a PCR test, looks for genetic material,” a Metro Health news release said.

A PCR test can take several days to process while an antigen test can produce a more rapid result. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses both PCR and antigen testing in the national statistics.

However, the state does not. 

Bexar County had about 3,400 of its positive cases attributed to antigen tests. Texas has removed the antigen tests from Bexar County in the state’s total case count

Now, what Metro Health lists “confirmed” and “probable” cases will now be separated on its daily reporting dashboard. The City of San Antonio said in a news release that it separated the reporting after a request from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“To be clear, this is not an ‘error’ in Metro Health’s reporting,” said Dr. Bridger. “This is a disagreement over what should be reported in total counts. We will continue to align our definitions with those from the CDC and the Texas Department of State Health Services, while honoring the state’s request to separate probable cases.”

Both San Antonio Metro Health and the state health department noted that neither uses antibody tests in its total case counts. 

Joey Palacios can be reached at Joey@TPR.org and on Twitter at @Joeycules.

Kathleen Creedon contributed to this story.

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