DR. JOSE ROMERO (file photo)

The Arkansas Times has been pestering the Arkansas Department of Health for weeks now about its twice-weekly reporting on where people who’ve tested positive for coronavirus infection have been — church, grocery store, bars, etc. A percentage is given; here’s the most recent report, issued Sept. 28:

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In days of yore when we were only a few months into the pandemic, Governor Hutchinson used to cite these percentages to show why it was safe to open restaurants, etc.

So, 9 percent went to retail stores. But 9 percent of what number? That is the question we’ve been asking the health department. The answer has been “active cases” or “we don’t have a straightforward way to answer that question.” But it can’t be all active cases, because that would suggest that case investigators, the nurses who make the first calls to persons who test positive, are reaching 100 percent. That’s not possible, and in fact, the case report (run on Mondays and Thursdays) includes active cases up until the run of the report, so it would be impossible for case investigators to reach 100 percent.

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Instead, the denominator should be the number of people reached by investigators who’ve answered the question. So what is that number?

Why does it matter? Because 9 percent of an unknown number is not useful to the public, and because it’s important to know how many people who have active virus have been contacted by case investigators so contact tracing can stem the spread of the virus.

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Today, after the governor’s weekly COVID-19 briefing, members of the press were able to ask Mike Cima, the health department’s chief epidemiologist, directly. He said he would check on the answer.

At any rate, it is not accurate to say that only .1 percent of people who’ve have active virus has been to a bar, or 9 percent to a grocery store.

Also after the briefing: Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero said he did not believe that had schools and colleges stayed open only virtually that we would not be seeing the high numbers of positives posted in the past week. “We’re not seeing that school is a breeding ground, an incubator.” Instead, the virus is being imported into the classrooms. He said the same was true in Europe, that “schools were not augmenters of the disease.”