When there are three different answers to the same question, how do you know which one is correct?
This is the dilemma that many news organizations — including The State Journal — are facing when it comes to reporting the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 by locality.
What should be a straightforward answer has become multiple choice with three different sets of figures — those announced by Gov. Andy Beshear in his daily press conferences; a number from the Kentucky Department of Public Health; and confirmed cases provided by the Franklin County Health Department.
For the most part the discrepancies are small — a case or two — but not always.
Take, for instance, last weekend when Beshear announced nine new cases of the virus in Franklin County. Yet Judy Mattingly, director of public health at FCHD, and her staff were only able to confirm one.
“We assume that the tests were done through the drive-through testing event earlier in the week from Kroger,” Mattingly said of the state-sponsored testing at Lakeview Park last week. “That was open to several counties and may have just been assigned to Franklin County as positive cases.”
While eight — the difference between the two reports — doesn’t sound like a lot, it would have nearly doubled the confirmed case total in the county had Beshear's number been accurate.
Currently, FCHD has confirmed 13 cases; KDPH is reporting 14; and we’ve lost count of the number of county cases Beshear has stated.
The largest discrepancy occurs between the governor’s daily briefing figures — which, according to Mattingly, are reliant on the county in which the patient was tested — and those reported locally, which have been confirmed as Franklin County residents.
We understand that real-time data has a level of statistical error and can take time to verify and correct. However, as was the case last weekend, not knowing which set of figures to believe can cause unnecessary anxiety in a community that is already unsettled by the public health crisis of our lifetimes.
To remedy this, we believe Beshear should stick with relaying statewide totals of confirmed cases and deaths and leave the local numbers up to county health departments to communicate to the citizenry and report to the state for compilation.