Fact Check: Minnesota Governor misleading in criticizing Iowa’s COVID-19 positivity

Gov. Walz
Gov. Walz(KVLY)
Published: Feb. 15, 2021 at 7:49 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Minnesota’s Governor used a slightly misleading comparison to criticize Iowa’s Governor’s move to do away with most COVID-19 restrictions, including her mask mandate and restrictions on bars and restaurants.

On Friday, Governor Tim Walz (D-Minnesota) touted his state’s COVID-19 7-day positivity rate of 3.9% as he announced an easing of restrictions in Minnesota. Those easing of restrictions was primarily on crowd size and indoor dining but left in place the state’s mask mandate. Gov. Walz said his move was slow and calculated while criticizing the faster rollback Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds took the week before.

CLAIM: “I can’t imagine being at 25% positivity rate like we’re seeing in Iowa and that is you’re going to overwhelm your hospitals,” Walz said. “It’s it’s inevitable. It’s just math, it’s math, it’s not anything else. And that can all be alleviated by the situation we’re in.”

ANALYSIS: Our i9 Fact Check looked into the comparison. Gov. Walz’s office told a reporter his data came from the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker to quote the statistics. As of Monday morning, that site lists Iowa’s positivity rate at 26.19% for the past week while Minnesota’s sits at 3.18%.

But those numbers are not created equal. Johns Hopkins pulls its data from its partners at the COVID Tracking Project, which, in turn, gets its data from each state’s public health department. But each state reports its data, specifically its test data, differently.

Minnesota’s Department of Public Health reports the number of total tests it has performed, meaning if one person takes three tests it would show up as three tests in the state’s test total. This is the number Johns Hopkins uses to calculate the positivity rate it shows for Minnesota.

However, Iowa initially only reported the number of people tested, regardless of how many times each person was tested, meaning if one person tested 3 times, it only showed up as one test in the state’s count. Iowa has since adjusted its site to report the number of total tests AND the number of individuals tested. However, Johns Hopkins is still using the individuals tested to measure the positivity rate.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, both methods of calculating a positivity rate are valid and useful. However, the positivity rate tracking individuals will skew higher than one that tracks overall tests because the denominator (the number of tests used) will be significantly higher while the number of positive cases remains the same.

CONCLUSION: It’s still difficult getting an apples-to-apples comparison between Iowa and Minnesota’s positivity rates because of other nuances in how each state reports its data. Iowa does not give a 7-day positivity rate based on total tests but lists its 14-day rate as 5.0%, much closer to the 3.9% Minnesota reported at the end of last week.

The CDC’s website is the closest we could find to an equal comparison - but it only gives ranges for 7-day positivity rates. It lists Minnesota’s rate as 0-5% while Iowa’s is 6-10%.

While it appears Iowa’s positivity rate is higher than Minnesota’s, it is not as big of a disparity as Gov. Walz presented on Friday. That’s why this claim gets a ‘B’.

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