Texans know, with some precision, how many people in the state have contracted the coronavirus, and how many have died from it. The same information, broken down by county, also can be found at the Texas Department of State Health Services' online COVID-19 Case Dashboard.
But despite promises two weeks ago to provide counts on the total number of tests by county, the state has yet to provide that information – at least information that is current and complete.
For Anderson County, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) has reported 37 COVID-19 tests as of April 8 – a number that is obviously low. One small clinic alone in Palestine reported 20 tests.
Palestine Mayor Steve Presley is one of many people who wants to know why.
“We know 37 tests for Anderson County is not right,” Presley told the Herald-Press Thursday. “We need those numbers to show the community that adequate tests are being done.”
Presley said the state may not report those figures locally because of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which protect people's medical privacy. Simply releasing raw numbers by county, however, should not violate federal privacy laws, he said.
“In my opinion, they can release those numbers,” Presley said. “But that's up to the Department of Health.”
Dr. Carolyn Salter, a Palestine physician, also said federal patient privacy laws don't prohibit reporting raw numbers. She said her clinic has done 23 COVID-19 tests – none positive.
Terrance Ayden, spokesman for NET Public Health, did not return phone calls from the Herald-Press.
Private labs do at least 90% of COVID-19 testing in Texas, DSHS reports. This week, of 17,000 tests reported, more than 15,000 came from private labs.
Presley has contacted other counties to learn how they determine COVID-19 test numbers. Nacogdoches County combines numbers from their hospitals, but doesn't include numbers from their private labs because they aren't available.
“The corporations that run these labs are afraid to release information that's HIPPA-related,” Presley said. “The only way to know [the full numbers] is to call every doctor's office, nursing home, and home health agency. But many of them will say 'no, that's HIPAA information.' I know because I've already