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Going down? Maybe not. State reports technical glitch led to COVID-19 undercount

People fill out forms while standing in line for a COVID-19 test at a Santa Clara County mobile testing site at Rengstorff Park in Mountain View on May 27. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

California's daily count of COVID-19 cases appears to be falling, but that may be due to underreporting caused by technical issues, state health officials said Tuesday.

"We've discovered some discrepancies," said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state's health and human services secretary in a press call. Data, he said, is "getting stuck" in the electronic system that feeds information from test labs to both the state and local public health departments.

This means counties and the state are not getting a full picture of who and how many are testing positive. That lack of information hampers the counties' ability to investigate cases and initiate contact tracing, Ghaly said.

"There is no doubt that their ability to address in a timely way specific cases around case investigation and contact tracing is limited," Ghaly said. This is on top of the high volume of cases that already were overwhelming counties' efforts to conduct timely and effective investigations and tracing.

And "the seven-day positivity rate is absolutely affected by this," he added.

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On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom gave Californians a glimpse of good news, reporting a drop in the state's seven-day positivity rate to 6.1%. Days and weeks before, the state had been steadily reporting that, on average, anywhere from 7% to 8% of tests were coming back positive.

A spokesperson with the California Department of Public Health said in an email that the state is still assessing the magnitude of the undercount, but did not say how many days the system was buggy.

On Tuesday, state data showed 4,526 new cases, down from the 5,739 reported on Monday and the 9,032 reported on Sunday. The seven-day average number of new cases is 7,554 per day. In comparison, the seven-day average from the week before was 9,397.

This technical issue, however, does not affect the hospitalization or intensive care unit numbers, which also have seen recent declines, state data show.

This data snafu also does not affect patient care or test results, the state's public health department said.

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"Laboratories continue to report test results directly to providers and hospitals, and hospitalization and death rates are not impacted as they are reported directly to the state through different systems," a department spokesperson said in a statement.

Ghaly said it is unclear how long it will take to resolve the underreporting. A team from the department of technology is looking at the issue, and the state has instructed all labs to manually report positive cases to local public health departments, according to a state public health spokesperson.

In the past, testing backlogs and other slow reporting have resulted in delayed data, which is in part why health officials often look at the longer, 14-day average, Ghaly said.

"We often don't see high numbers on Monday mornings because Sunday becomes a slower reporting day for a lot of operational issues," he said.

CalMatters health care coverage is supported by a grant from the Blue Shield of California Foundation.

Email Ana B. Ibarra at [email protected]

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CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California's policies and politics. Read more state news from CalMatters here.

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Going down? Maybe not. State reports technical glitch led to COVID-19 undercount

by / CalMatters

Uploaded: Wed, Aug 5, 2020, 12:54 pm

California's daily count of COVID-19 cases appears to be falling, but that may be due to underreporting caused by technical issues, state health officials said Tuesday.

"We've discovered some discrepancies," said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state's health and human services secretary in a press call. Data, he said, is "getting stuck" in the electronic system that feeds information from test labs to both the state and local public health departments.

This means counties and the state are not getting a full picture of who and how many are testing positive. That lack of information hampers the counties' ability to investigate cases and initiate contact tracing, Ghaly said.

"There is no doubt that their ability to address in a timely way specific cases around case investigation and contact tracing is limited," Ghaly said. This is on top of the high volume of cases that already were overwhelming counties' efforts to conduct timely and effective investigations and tracing.

And "the seven-day positivity rate is absolutely affected by this," he added.

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom gave Californians a glimpse of good news, reporting a drop in the state's seven-day positivity rate to 6.1%. Days and weeks before, the state had been steadily reporting that, on average, anywhere from 7% to 8% of tests were coming back positive.

A spokesperson with the California Department of Public Health said in an email that the state is still assessing the magnitude of the undercount, but did not say how many days the system was buggy.

On Tuesday, state data showed 4,526 new cases, down from the 5,739 reported on Monday and the 9,032 reported on Sunday. The seven-day average number of new cases is 7,554 per day. In comparison, the seven-day average from the week before was 9,397.

This technical issue, however, does not affect the hospitalization or intensive care unit numbers, which also have seen recent declines, state data show.

This data snafu also does not affect patient care or test results, the state's public health department said.

"Laboratories continue to report test results directly to providers and hospitals, and hospitalization and death rates are not impacted as they are reported directly to the state through different systems," a department spokesperson said in a statement.

Ghaly said it is unclear how long it will take to resolve the underreporting. A team from the department of technology is looking at the issue, and the state has instructed all labs to manually report positive cases to local public health departments, according to a state public health spokesperson.

In the past, testing backlogs and other slow reporting have resulted in delayed data, which is in part why health officials often look at the longer, 14-day average, Ghaly said.

"We often don't see high numbers on Monday mornings because Sunday becomes a slower reporting day for a lot of operational issues," he said.

CalMatters health care coverage is supported by a grant from the Blue Shield of California Foundation.

Email Ana B. Ibarra at [email protected]

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California's policies and politics.

Comments

Steven Goldstein
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Aug 6, 2020 at 5:58 pm
Steven Goldstein, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Aug 6, 2020 at 5:58 pm

WOW,

You figure? The fact is that NO ONE wants to track the truth.

The fact is that if we got the accurate numbers by sampling the population and not selective testing, we would get a much better picture.

But that would require doing about 20,000 tests a day and getting the results within 24 hours calculated, AND contact tracing done on the positive tests at that time.

So far we can't do it? WHY?


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