California Coronavirus Update: Top Health Official Reveals State Has Been Underreporting New COVID-19 Cases, County Numbers Also Have “Discrepancies”

On Tuesday, an unusual message was posted on the California State COVID-19 dashboard. It read, “Due to the issues with the state’s electronic laboratory system, these data represent an underreporting of actual positive cases in one single day.”

There was no further information or clarification.

A few hours later, the state’s top health official, Dr. Mark Ghaly, shed some light on the issue.

“Over the past few days — the state system — we’ve discovered some discrepancies,” said Ghaly.

“We’re working hard and immediately to reach out to the labs that we work with to get accurate information in a manual process so that we can feed that to our county partners,’ he said, “so that we can validate and make sure that our numbers are accurate.

California Coronavirus Update: Governor Gavin Newsom Warns COVID Could Impact Labor Day, Halloween And The Holidays

“And of course, [we’re] working hard on the technology side across state government to make sure that the systems are robust and capable of accepting all of this information.”

California’s daily case count numbers have plummeted from a recent high of 9,032 on August 1 — the day local officials were informed of the issue — to 5,719 on Monday.

While Governor Gavin Newsom did not reveal the data issues at his Monday news conference, he did repeatedly warn Californians not to let their guard down.

“The overall trend…is showing a decrease from where we were over a week ago,” said Newsom. “But one week does not make the kind of trend that gives us confidence to generate headlines. We are looking forward to that and need to see another few weeks of this kind of data to come in to feel more confident about where we are as a state.”

He also issued what now seems like a prescient warning saying, “This virus is not going away. It’s not just going to take Labor Day off. It’s not going to take Halloween off. Or the holidays off.”

“Until we have quality therapeutics, until we have a vaccine, we are going to be living with this virus,” predicted Newsom.

And it’s not just the state numbers.

“Many counties depend upon the state’s information to keep their own data up to date,” said Ghaly. “Many public health officials and public health offices that depend on the state’s data over the past few days have seen a drop in case numbers. We’ve been in communication with them about what these discrepancies are. They’re concerned, as we are. There is no doubt that, their ability to address in a specific way contact tracing and case investigation” has been impacted over the past few days, said Ghaly.

Riverside county acknowledged the issue in a statement on Monday, which read in part:

Electronic laboratory reporting is not being submitted to CalREDIE’s system in a real-time manner. Riverside County’s positive cases in recent days may appear that the numbers are holding steady or flattening, but that’s simply not true, said Public Health Director Kim Saruwatari.

“This is an integration, technical issue,” Saruwatari said. “Simply put, there is a significant lag in how the information is being fed into the system. We’re anticipating significant increases incase reporting this week.”

Two counties, Sacramento and Placer, posted disclaimers to their COVID-19 dashboards. Placer added a message on Monday and Sacramento added a warning early Tuesday, amid a few. Those counties had recently seen lower numbers.

The notice went on to say that local health officials had first been made aware of the reporting issue on Friday.

A warning statement on Placer’s data dashboard reads, “Please note that CalREDIE, the statewide electronic disease reporting system, is experiencing serious unresolved processing delays.

“As such, new cases presented here are likely an underestimate of true incident cases being reported. This impacts many of our statistics, including case rates and percent increase estimates.”

These data challenges on case numbers do not have overlap with hospitalization and ICU data, he said.

The state reported 4,526 new cases on Tuesday and 113 new deaths. Hospitalizations were down 1.5 percent and COVID-related ICU patients dropped .9 percent.

Watch Ghaly’s presentation below.

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