Our Opinion: Close recovery gap in COVID numbers

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Readers of The Checkup article in The Eagle are able to keep track of the deaths from COVID-19 and the number of cases in the Berkshires on a daily basis. This month, those numbers have been encouraging. But the state does not report the number of people who have recovered from the illness, as many states do, or at least attempt to do.

"People can and do recover, and we need to remember that," said Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel after she recovered from her bout with the coronavirus and returned to work. The state Department of Public Health does not track the number of recoveries in the state but is exploring ways of doing so. The basic task is defining what constitutes "recovery," which is not a simple one.

By subtracting deaths and hospitalizations from the number of COVID-19 cases in a state or individual community you get the number of presumed recoveries, which is a far larger number than the other categories. But we don't know how many are at home recovering or how many made full recoveries and returned to work and resumed their lives as before. Ideally, an ambitious contact tracing program will play a role in providing this information.

The Centers for Disease Control does not have a definition of what constitutes recovery but is reportedly working with Massachusetts and several other states on reaching a uniform one. In the absence of this definition, the State House News Service reports that many states have come up with their own definitions, which vary to one degree or another.

Alaska defines a recovered person as one who has been released from home isolation and is no longer considered infectious. Michigan regards anyone who is still alive 30 days after testing positive as recovered. Wyoming says you're recovered if there is improvement in symptoms over 72 hours and at least seven days have passed since those symptoms first appeared, perhaps the most liberal definition out there. Tennessee may have the best and most comprehensive definition. Those who have been determined to be asymptomatic by their local or regional health board and have completed the required isolation period or are at least 21 days beyond their positive test are classified as recovered.

On Monday, the governor announced his plan for reopening the state. More insight into the recovery rate would help guide this ongoing process as well as remind residents that this virus can be overcome.

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