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Is the Worcester, Mass., COVID-19 Positivity Rate 2% or 15%?

Imagine a group of 10 people had 10 tests. If two people received five tests apiece, the results wouldn’t necessarily give an accurate view of the group, because while 10 tests were provided, only two were counted.

Two officials wearing facemasks stand on either side of the door to a city hall building.
Worcester City Manager Edward Augustus Jr. and Medical Director Dr. Michael Hirsh outside of City Hall.
(TNS) - Data released Thursday by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported Worcester’s positive test rate was 2.36%.
Worcester Medical Director Dr. Michael Hirsh said, while the number is accurate, it is also a fraction of where the city actually stands.
Hirsh, who is the Director of Trauma Services and Surgeon-In-Chief at Children’s Medical Center at UMass Memorial Health Care, said the positive test rate within New England’s second-largest city is actually about 15% and is trending upward.
The difference emerges because of two reasons. Hirsh’s figure is from data this week, while the state’s includes two weeks. However, the larger difference is due to duplicate testing.
The 13-point difference is because Worcester is not including people who have been tested more than once.
“We have tried to scrub out duplications as much as we can,” Hirsh said. “I think our numbers are a little more accurate than some of the state numbers.
Imagine a group of 10 people had 10 tests. If two people received five tests apiece, the results wouldn’t necessarily give an accurate view of the group. It would, however, provide strong results for the two individuals. So while 10 tests were provided, only two were counted.
Hirsh said any time a positive rate grows to greater than 5%, there’s a concern. Part of the state’s color-coded rating system involves the positivity rate. Worcester is currently “yellow” under the state guidelines but only because its test rate is below 4%.
In reality, according to Worcester’s data, the city is a “red” or high-risk community.
“It’s a big jump,” Hirsh said of the 13-point difference in numbers. “We’ve gone up consistently the last five weeks each time a little bit at a time.”
A similar jump exists within Worcester’s surrounding communities where the city provides public health services.
Only Leicester and Holden have positivity rates below 10%, Hirsh said.
“The others are quite alarming,” Hirsh said.
Hirsh said the positive test rate in Millbury is 26%. According to the state data, the town’s positive test rate is 4%. Shrewsbury and Grafton also have test rates below 4% according to the state, however, Hirsh said both are above 10%.
“That’s kind of where [ Worcester] peaked back in the spring,” Hirsh said. “We were at a range of somewhere in the 28% range. I fear we may see that again.
City Manager Edward Augustus Jr. reported 127 new cases of coronavirus in the city on Thursday alone. During the last week, the city saw 667 new cases. The number was 149 more than the total announced last week.
Since the start of the pandemic, the city has experienced 8,565 cases of coronavirus.
Shrewsbury, Holden, Grafton, Leicester and Millbury all saw increases in cases compared to last week.
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