Conspiracy Theorists and Virus Deniers Amplify and Distort Minor Data Error

The relatively small mistakes that some labs made in not reporting negative results would have almost no impact on the overall positivity rate in a state with more than 2.7 million people being tested.

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With all the data surrouding the pandemic, there's plenty room for mistakes.

But some who dwell in the fever swamps of internet conspiracy and virus-denier websites and chat groups are exploiting some laboratory data input errors to sow doubt about the extent of the virus in Florida.

One of the more pervasive pieces of nonsense claims Florida Department of Health saboteurs are rigging test result to inflate the state's positivity rate.

Spoiler alert: they are not.

Like most conspiracy theories, it starts with a kernel of truth: some labs did mistakenly report only positive test results. Assuming they also had negative results that they did not report, that would, of course, result in an inflated positivity rate.

But in a state with more than 2.7 million people having been tested, it would take a lot of unreported negatives to significantly lower the current 11% positivity rate for all tests reported since the beginning of the pandemic.

And, it turns out, the more than 400 labs that reported 100% positive results would have probably produced a relatively minuscule amount of negative results, had they been detected and reported at the same rate as other labs.

If all 474 of the 100-percent-positive labs actually had unreported negative rates similar to the labs providing the other 99% of test results, they would have added about 37,000 more negatives to the state total.

That would result in the state's 11% overall positivity rate falling to 10.9%, an insignificant difference.

Two hundred seventy of them have reported only one or two positive tests since the pandemic began.

One hospital lab reported 410 all-positive results on one line of the state report, but elsewhere confirmed it had found more than 2,000 negatives -- another apparent database input error.

The state Department of Health admits some of the small labs mistakenly excluded negatives and said it would educate them on how to properly report both negative and positive results.

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