As the coronavirus pandemic continues, we’ve become fixated on numbers. We act as if the situation has changed because there’s now a number beside Colquitt County’s name on a chart tracking the state’s COVID-19 cases.

We use those numbers because they’re the only measure we have of how the disease is progressing, but we know they’re wrong.

How many cases do we have in Georgia? We don’t know. But we do know how many positive results we have from the tests: 1,026 as of noon Tuesday. Even that will be obsolete by the time you read this.

Health officials aren’t testing everyone. They aren’t even testing everyone who has symptoms. There aren’t enough tests for that. 

It’s reasonable to believe there are many COVID-19 cases that have not been tested, let alone confirmed. How many? We have no way to know.

There’s a lag at every point in the system. The person encounters the virus and it will be days — usually five but possibly as many as 14 — before they feel symptoms. It may be another day or two before the symptoms are bad enough for them to seek medical attention. Then — even if they’re tested at that point — it will be days before those results come back from the lab.

On top of that, different agencies count the test results differently

In a clear local example, Colquitt Regional Medical Center reports three positive COVID-19 cases. The state Department of Public Health reports only one here.

A possible reason for the difference is the DPH site is based on the patient’s county of residence while the hospital may be counting who’s been tested at its testing site. If two of the three patients claimed by Colquitt Regional actually live in an adjacent county but were tested here, that would explain it.

Or there could be a delay between the hospital getting the result and reporting it to DPH, or between DPH getting that report and putting it on their website.

The big news is that we now know coronavirus is in our community. It probably has been for at least several days, but there’s no possible doubt now.

Please comply with health officials’ recommendations:

• Stay at home as much as you can.

• When you must go out, avoid groups of people.

• When you must be around people, maintain a distance of 6 feet or more between yourself and others.

• When you cough or sneeze, do so into a tissue and throw the tissue in the trash.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water. If you don’t have access to soap and water, use hand sanitizer.

• Disinfect commonly touched areas, such as door knobs and light switches.

It’s going to take a while to get coronavirus cases down to 0, but that’s the number we’re most interested in.

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