If you’re going to count someone among those who’ve tested positive for COVID-19, it helps if he’s been tested in the first place.
This goes without saying, one would think. However, the case of Brock Ballou shows how bureaucratic sloppiness has infected our COVID-19 response.
According to WSMV-TV in Nashville, Ballou — a Mt. Juliet, Tennessee resident — knew he was potentially at risk for infection by the coronavirus. One of his co-workers had it and he was expecting a call from a contact tracer.
What he wasn’t expecting is that the contact tracers would be telling him he was listed as having COVID-19 — without being tested.
Check out the WSMV report below:
“She specifically said – I’m looking at it right here – you tested positive – this is a follow-up call to see how your symptoms are,” Ballou told WSMV.
All right, so that’s one call, right? Well, it wasn’t just that.
There were two more days of calls, Ballou said, both with similar messages.
“[The contact tracer] said, ‘I’m still seeing that you’re positive. Courtesy call – checking your symptoms,’” Ballou said.
Was this a case of mishearing the person on the other end of the line?
“I’m 100 percent sure that’s what she said,” Ballou said.
“She was looking right at it; she told me I’m in the system – looking right at it that you’re showing positive.”
Ballou’s problem is probably the same as yours, he wonders how he can trust the numbers coming out of the state if he’s being counted positive without actually taking a test. (Stories about inflated numbers of deaths being attributed to COVID-19 are becoming all too common.)
“I said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s wrong,'” Ballou said.
“I’m just another number when I’m not.”
According to WSMV, Ballou provided three phone numbers to the station where he said the calls came from. All three trace back to workers with the Tennessee Department of Health, WSMV reported.
Ballou told the station he was told by the state that the calls were made to him by a third-party contractor.
The health department told WSMV it’s investigating the case.
“I can also tell you there is no concern with our count of cases in regard to our reporting of those who test positive,” a spokeswoman said in a statement, according to WSMV. “Those entries are based on lab results, not on information provided from the monitoring team.”
Ballou’s case might be unusual, but it’s not alone.
As WWSB-TV in Sarasota, Florida, reported Friday, Florida resident Mindy Clark said she also had received a phone call informing her she’d tested positive for the coronavirus when she had never been tested at all.
Clark said she had driven to a drive-thru testing site, but left the line before she got swabbed because she realized it was supposed to only be for those who were showing potential sympoms.
In an interview with WWSB, Jay Wolfson, a professor of health and medicine at the University of South Florida, said that might have been caused by a quirk in the testing. Motorists in line at some drive-thru testing sites are registered along with their vehicle’s place in line, he said. If one vehicle leaves before a test is administered, it could throw off results that follow.
“This is part of the testing mechanism problem. People are sitting in their cars, sometimes for hours, or standing in line, six feet apart sometimes for hours. You’re registered though, you’re number 15 in line, and you are Jay Wolfson,” he said. “If Jay Wolfson says he can’t wait any longer and he leaves, it will get number 15 and now get Rebecca Fernandez, who was standing behind him, and she tests positive, and then everyone from then on gets the wrong results. There has to be a better way to do this.”
That’s a different issue from Ballou’s, but clearly, mistakes are being made.
Cases like Brock Ballou’s, whether or not they end up in the official COVID-19 tallies, might not make that much of a difference in terms of the numbers — at least at the moment. However, it’s indicative of how our systems for reporting cases of the novel coronavirus simply haven’t evolved quickly enough to keep pace with the problem that we face.
The extrapolation that can be made in Ballou’s case, if his situation wasn’t a one-off mistake, is that contact tracers made the sloppy, lazy assumption there was a cluster of people with the novel coronavirus because those individuals came into contact with a single person.
You can imagine the problems this would create if these are the shortcuts we’re going to take. At the moment, the Tennessee Department of Health says it’s investigating — and hopefully, it will be public about the results. However, the fact that the story exists at all isn’t a good sign for our ability to accurately track this disease.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.