House speaker floats baseless theory of ‘double counting’ COVID-19 cases

By: - July 17, 2020 1:00 am

Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, at podium. Photo from Ohio House website.

Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, without evidence, floated a theory to reporters Thursday in which the Ohio Department of Health is counting some COVID-19 cases twice and some as many as 15 times.

Householder, R-Glenford, said he doesn’t necessarily believe the notion himself that ODH is inflating the data, but said there’s a lot of “controversy about how that information is gathered” and people are critical of it.

“I’m certain you’ve heard that there’s double countings and folks that even say some folks have been counted 15 times, they count every single positive test and if folks go in for more and more testing, they get counted every single time,” he said. “There’s always those criticisms.”

Householder, who does not wear a mask and has expressed skepticism about different aspects of the pandemic, said he believes ODH publishes accurate information about the pandemic, but he does “question it.”

ODH does not count multiple positive tests from a single patient as multiple cases, according to department spokeswoman Melanie Amato. The department tracks all tests from one patient within that person’s case file.

Householder’s comments come one day after Gov. Mike DeWine declined to use the blunt force of statewide health orders, but instead made a data-heavy case that the pandemic will spin out of control unless Ohioans take preventative actions like social distancing and masking.

More than 3,000 Ohioans have died from COVID-19, per ODH data. More than 9,200 have been hospitalized. About 1,025 are currently in the hospital because of the disease, some 150 who require the use of a ventilator. Nearly 70,000 Ohioans have been infected.

The roots of the rumor that someone was counted 15 times appear to trace back to a Wednesday segment on The Ingraham Angle on Fox News.

In the segment, Phil Kerpen of the “Committee to Unleash Prosperity” alleged he saw in an exchange on Twitter that a person of unknown gender, in the 80+ age group, with a symptom onset date of May 25, in Mahoning County was counted 15 times.

ODH data shows that on May 25, symptoms set in for 15 people of unknown gender in Mahoning County over 80 years old.

However, both ODH and Mahoning County Public Health Department disputed the notion entirely. MCPH said the Ohio Disease Reporting System is a “person-based,” not “test-based,” system and is designed to flag potential duplicative entries.

“The report that one person was counted as 15 cases is false,” MCPH said in a statement. “The data is being read incorrectly. In this incident, 15 people around the same age (80 plus) were tested on the same day and were all confirmed positive, for example, mass testing in a nursing home… It is not one person being counted 15 times.”

Kerpen could not be reached for comment.  

Also Thursday, Householder confirmed that two House employees contracted COVID-19, confirming earlier reporting from the Ohio Capital Journal. The positive tests preceded Householder re-imposing a work-from-home policy. Two Senate staffers have contracted the disease as well. 

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Jake Zuckerman
Jake Zuckerman

Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.