Media and sometimes government officials have referred to the “released from isolation” cases as people who have recovered from the virus.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, in a daily front-page graphic called “The Cases,” until today referred to the “released from isolation” cases as “recoveries.”
But on Thursday the Department of Health said in a new footnote that the “released from isolation” category includes those who “have died or have left the jurisdiction.”
The DOH says 17 people infected with COVID-19 have died since the start of the outbreak.
DOH reported Thursday three new COVID-19 cases for a total of 629 since the agency began tracking the virus. The DOH said 565 of those have been “released from isolation.”
On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Josh Green’s office used the “released from isolation” number to calculate Hawaii’s recovery rate from COVID-19.
Green did not appear to know that the number of deaths was included in his calculations. He said he receives his numbers from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, which he said receives its numbers from the DOH.
“I’ve just been reporting the number of people from their data,” he said. “The reason to do it is to demonstrate how many people who could actually be spreading the virus, so that is the purpose for my numbers — just so people get an idea of what a small percentage are still possibly infectious.”
Hawaii COVID-19 Joint Information Center spokesman Dan Dennison said most of the deaths have always been included in the “released from isolation” category.
DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo said the new footnote may have been a result of “cleaning up the data.”
Okubo said there is no way to accurately determine how many people in Hawaii have actually recovered from COVID-19 because most people are not retested for COVID-19 once they meet the criteria to be released from isolation.
If you test positive for COVID-19, you are ordered to isolate at home. You are released from isolation three days after your fever or muscle aches subside without medication or 10 days after your symptoms began, whichever is longer.
“For the DOH, we don’t have a clear definition of what ‘recovered’ is supposed to mean,” she said. “We know we have been releasing people from isolation because they have resolved their illness or have passed the period when they need to be isolated.”
She said the DOH has not used the “released from isolation” category to determine a recovery rate.
Okubo said those “who have left jurisdiction” include infected visitors who have left the state after being released from isolation. She said that group is likely small, and could recall only one case that fits that description, but could not provide an exact number of cases.