Some saying Milwaukee is a top city for coronavirus spread, but more data, consistent testing needed to compare

By Daphne Chen and John Diedrich
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 27, 2020

Wisconsin public health officials are reporting more than 840 residents have tested positive for coronavirus, with nearly 500 of them in Milwaukee County.

Those are important numbers to be sure — but there are key figures that are not being reported, here and across the country. Testing volume and availability varies dramatically between areas, and the data on negative or pending tests is spotty.

Experts warn these restrictions in Wisconsin and across the U.S. means they have no idea the true number of those infected.

As a result, it’s difficult to make meaningful comparisons of the severity of the outbreak across locations.

Mustafa Hussein, a health economist and social epidemiologist with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said ranking cities on COVID case reporting is problematic.

“I don’t think these comparisons are very useful because of the differential in the undertesting rate,” he said, adding New York and Washington state may appear to have more positives simply because they are testing more people, and also in part because their outbreaks started earlier.

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