COVID-19: Why “active” vs. “recovered” causes confusion

MEDFORD, Ore. – “Educating people on what these numbers really mean really helps,” said medical expert, Dr. Robin Miller. At the end of June, the Oregon Health Authority changed the definition of a recovered case of COVID-19. Health officials stopped calling to track a patient’s recovery and put more effort into tracing.

Jonathan Modie with OHA said, “Our epidemiologists are using the time that had been spent on assessing recovery to perform case investigations and contact tracing. “After the change, positive cases were deemed ‘recovered’ if the patient was still alive, 60 days after diagnosis. The move was met with some consternation.

Klamath County Public Health came out publicly disagreeing with it. “That’s incredible misleading because it looks like people are not recovering or that they’re much more ill than they truly are,” said Valeree Lane with KCPH.

KCPH director Jennifer Little released this statement: “It’s an unfortunate change, because from a community service perspective it artificially inflates active cases. The new process no longer provides a direct correlation between length of illness and recovery.”

“If someone tests positive for COVID-19 and then it takes 60 days for them to be ‘recovered’ that makes no sense to me,” said Dr. Miller. She prefers the active case numbers, though not every southern Oregon county provides them, including Douglas, Coos, Klamath and Lake counties.

One Jackson County epidemiologist said the definition of active, also varies county to county. Bailey Burkhalter said via email “Klamath County associates “active” with recovery, and as such doesn’t report active cases at all. Jackson county, however, essentially equates “active” with discontinuation of isolation.'”

Jackson County Public Health officer Dr. Jim Shames said the terminology is perhaps most useful from a public health perspective. “I appreciate that it’s confusing and I may even be confused by some of the terminology,” said Shames. But he says county health agencies are working on the public’s behalf to keep them safe.

“I suspect some of this has to do with people that feel like there is an exaggeration that’s happening. And that perhaps someone, somewhere wants to make this sound bigger than it is. For those of us that are actually hearing the stories and watching people get hospitalized and dying, we had a fatality yesterday. Seeing how it all connects, its all very real to us,” said Shames.

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