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Defining a breakthrough case

As the number of breakthrough COVID-19 cases mounts locally, as well as at the national level, the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department is trying to explain what the term means, and why the situation is significantly better than the headlines suggest.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Van Howe says most have no symptoms.

A lot of them are people who are going to have a procedure at the hospital. At the hospital they’re testing everybody before they have a procedure, and they end up being positive. They don’t have any symptoms, but they have some form of COVID in their nose.

Some of Van Howe’s issues with the breakthrough count have been echoed for over a year by critics of COVID-19 data reporting in general. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that over 40 percent of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic, and seemingly healthy patients being flagged by hospitals didn’t start with the advent of the vaccines. That has been a constant issue since elective surgeries were restarted last summer. Then there is the evergreen argument over what constitutes a death due to COVID and a death with COVID.

States like Colorado and parts of California have been forced to reclassify as many as one-quarter of their COVID-19 deaths after narrowing their definition to stricter criteria. If that was applied nationwide, it could have profound ramifications for how we gauge the lethality of COVID-19. Consistency is key no matter what standard is used.

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