PROVINCETOWN — For more than two years now, the state Dept. of Public Health (DPH) has been publishing highly detailed information on Covid, including key indicators that help to assess whether enough testing is taking place and how many cases might be escaping official attention. The state is not publishing these testing metrics, however, for the current monkeypox outbreak.
The total testing volume and the percentage of tests that are positive both help put the total count of reported cases into context and make it easier to see if testing is adequate to discover the cases that exist. It can also indicate where there may be too little testing and lots of undiscovered cases.
When the Independent asked for testing data in a phone interview with state epidemiologist Catherine Brown, she said, “I can get the exact numbers of tests for you this morning.”
Those numbers were slow to come, however, because the DPH requires a formal records request to release the information. Records requests can take 10 business days, not counting the day they are filed and the day they are delivered, for a total of 16 calendar days.
For four weeks in July — Sunday, July 3 through Saturday, July 30 — the state public health lab processed only 181 tests, 108 of which were positive. That makes a positivity rate of 60 percent for those four weeks.
According to a DPH official who would speak only on condition of anonymity, the numbers are skewed because monkeypox testing in commercial labs was authorized early in July, and testing information from those labs was not included in the data release. “That’s an artificially increased positivity percent,” she said, “because it does not include commercial testing.”
That official also said that positivity rate calculations were hobbled because “when the commercial labs started testing, we were not receiving the negative results.” So, she concluded, “we can’t calculate a total percent positivity.”
The agency refused to provide the commercial testing data and declined to release any testing data more recent than the week ending Saturday, Aug. 6.
There is reason to think the August data might be more reassuring. During the last week for which data are available, July 31 to Aug. 6, testing volume more than doubled, from 62 tests the week before up to 151 tests, but the total number of cases discovered was about the same. The rate of positive tests fell to 21 percent.
The Independent awaits data for the remainder of August from another records request.
Meanwhile, the CDC has added nationwide testing totals to its monkeypox dashboard. Positivity peaked at 55 percent nationwide in mid-July and is now running at 24 percent. Testing volume has approximately quadrupled over that period, from around 4,000 tests per week in mid-July to more than 16,000 tests per week in mid-August.
That still means there have been about 4,000 cases discovered in each of the first three weeks of August, however.