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What does ‘positivity rate’ mean?

Coronavirus graphic.
Coronavirus graphic.(MGN)
Published: Nov. 19, 2020 at 3:20 AM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Since the pandemic hit, the phrase “positivity rate” has been referenced frequently on the news and by health experts. It’s easy to get lost in all the information, but there is a reason the numbers and percentages are important.

Based on a seven-day rolling average, on Tuesday, Kentucky’s positivity rate was 9.10 percent. So, what does that mean?

“The higher the positivity rate is, the more likely you are to encounter someone who has the virus if you go out in public,” Norton Healthcare Vice President of Medical Affairs Dr. James Frazier said.

The positivity rate is not a measure of how many cases there are. It’s the percentage of all coronavirus tests performed that show someone has COVID-19. Not everyone who has COVID-19 gets a test.

Knowing the total cases is still important, like in Kentucky there are more than 142,000 cases.

“Most people will say the incidents or positivity rate is an important number to monitor,” Frazier said.

Health leaders say the percent-positive rate is a critical measure because it gives an indication how widespread infection is in the area where the testing is happening, and whether levels of testing are keeping up with levels of disease transmission.

Frazier said you can check the percent-positive rate in your area before you decide to go out, just like how you would check the weather before you go out for the day. If you know there is a light chance of rain, you’ll take an umbrella. If COVID cases are low, you’ll wear a mask and socially distance. If you’re expecting a heavy thunderstorm, you’ll be more cautious and limit what you do. If positivity rates are high, think of it like a tornado; you would get in the basement and protect your family.

A high percent-positive rate means that more testing should probably be done and it suggests that it is not a good time to relax restrictions aimed at reducing coronavirus transmission.

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