/ Modified apr 14, 2020 2:21 p.m.

State map showing coronavirus cases by ZIP 'pretty much meaningless,' Pima County Health director says

Bob England says the map mostly shows where some limited groups have been tested, not the spread of the virus.

The Arizona Department of Health on Sunday began publishing a map showing positive tests for the novel coronavirus in Arizona by ZIP code.

“The ZIP code map of cases of COVID-19 are pretty much meaningless,” said Dr. Bob England, Director of the Pima County Health Department.

England said the problem with the map is that it does not take into account that early on in the pandemic, it was harder to get tested and those who did get tested had to meet strict criteria.

“So, we think that for every one report we’ve probably got 50 or more actual cases of infection out there between the people who tried to get tested and couldn’t and people who had really mild disease and never sought it in the first place,” England told AZPM.

He said the map generated each day by the state really shows one of three things.

“This is much more a map of where people live who were old enough to wind up in the hospital and get tested, or who were health care workers or first responders who were able to get tested because of that with their symptoms, or it is a map of ZIP codes of long-term-care facilities that have had clusters of cases,” England said.

The data used to make the map, according to the head of Pima’s health department, is probably three weeks behind reality. He said how long it takes to get tested and the time it takes for test results to come back must be factored in.

To get a closer to real time look at the severity of the crisis, England said people should look not at the number of positive cases but at the number of deaths and hospitalizations. He pointed out both of those numbers continue to rise.

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