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The “unreliable,” “non-scientifically founded” and “almost meaningless” pandemic statistic that guided Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s coronavirus response has finally been dropped as a policymaking metric by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

And it’s about time.

COVID-19 test positivity rates have been the backbone of the Pritzker administration’s decisions on when to ban in-person learning and indoor dining, limit public gathering sizes and order mask-wearing mandates, among other things.

This week, Illinois’ interim top non-medical doctor unceremoniously announced in a news release that the state would no longer publicly report test positivity, to match a policy change the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made more than a month ago.

“Test and case positivity rates were seen as a good way to monitor the level of community spread early in the pandemic,” IDPH Acting Director Amaal Tokars said.

Find out what’s happening in Chicagowith free, real-time updates from Patch.

Which, technically, was true for about a month in 2020.

The World Health Organization, on April 16, 2020, recommended that a positivity rate of less than 5 percent was a benchmark threshold for lifting social distance restrictions.

It didn’t take American scientists long to figure out test positivity wasn’t an effective metric for guiding a public health response to the coronavirus crisis.

As I’ve reported, Pritzker’s administration has known that since May 9, 2020.

In a confidential report obtained by Patch, the state’s coronavirus Epi-Modeling Task Force made this recommendation: “Changes in the total number of test-positive cases or the fraction testing positive are an unreliable measure of shifts. These numbers should not be used to determine policy.”

Pritzker’s administration ignored that advice.

In October 2020, University of Chicago associate professor Sarah Cobey — an epidemiologist, mathematical ecologist and evolutionary biologist with a Princeton pedigree — led an effort aimed at predicting when and under what conditions Illinoisans might return to work, to restaurants and to schools as the pandemic raged on.

Cobey said told the Belleville News Democrat that she had advised the Pritzker administration against determining pandemic policy based on test positivity “and basically all the metrics they’ve put forth so far because they are not scientifically founded,” Cobey said.

The scientist said the Pritzker administration balked at using her team’s more-accurate models because: “It’s too complicated. People won’t like it.”

“They’re pretty adamant that actual science is too much,” the world-renowned epidemiologist told the newspaper.

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