'Tip of the iceberg:' Need for more testing leads to COVID-19 data flaws, state health officials say

State health officials said Friday, Aug. 7 that they are working around the clock to give up-to-date COVID-19 numbers -- but that those numbers are flawed.

According to Wisconsin's Chief Medical Officer and State Epidemiologist Dr. Ryan Westergaard, the number of coronavirus cases in Wisconsin is likely significantly higher than what is being reported.

"There are a lot of transmissions in the state that don't get tested," said Westergaard. "I think it's very clear that we're testing still, just the tip of the iceberg...and that's a problem."

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is now adding more data to its website. The additions include more specific breakdowns of COVID-19 case by gender and race; graphics tracking the trends; and explanations of how data is compiled. 

Officials, though, said that not everyone is being tested who needs to be.

"There is a balance that we do every day, a balancing act between timely data and accurate data," said Julie Willems Van Dijk, DHS deputy secretary.

Westergaard said the way you can help is to get tested -- even if you are showing only mild symptoms or have none at all, but came into close contact with someone who has tested positive. He said that is what will help health officials most when tracking the virus' spread, and ultimately, to help slow it down.

"We haven't been able to identify everyone with the disease and put them in isolation so we don't expose people," said Westergaard. "Until we can do that better, it is going to continue to spread in Wisconsin."

State health officials said negative tests are not usually reported as quickly as positive tests are because there is a more urgent need to keep the public informed of new cases and possible spread.

DHS: 989 new COVID-19 cases; 58K+ total cases, 990 deaths, 48K+ recovered

The Wisconsin Department of Health Service reported more 58,000 positive cases of the coronavirus in the state, including 990 deaths.