USA

California's coronavirus test result data may be flawed, says top health official.

A steep decline in California’s coronavirus infection rate announced this week by Gov. Gavin Newson may not be accurate, according to the state’s top public health official who said Tuesday that the state’s data system used to process COVID-19 test results is marred with technical issues.

The snafus have caused delays in analyzing test results and cast doubt on Newsom’s announcement Monday of a 21.2% decline in the seven-day average rate for positive infections compared to the average from the week before.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said that “the seven-day positivity rate is absolutely affected” by the issue. It’s unclear to what extent and for how long cases have been undercounted, and how this situation differs from the more routine delays when test reporting lags over weekends.

Los Angeles public health officials last week warned that it was expecting a backlog in cases “due to previous reporting delays in the state electronic lab system.” The following day, the county reported highs of 4,825 new coronavirus cases and 91 deaths. Other counties, including Sacramento, Placer and Orange — which reported 263 additional cases Tuesday and two deaths — have recently included a warning on their dashboards that case counts may not be accurate.

“The state’s electronic disease reporting system has been experiencing issues processing incoming reports. Therefore, recent data published on the Sacramento County Public Health COVID-19 dashboards are likely to be an underestimate of true cases in the County,” Sacramento Public Health Department said.

The undercount issue does not affect hospitalization and intensive care data, Ghaly said. Those numbers recently plateaued across California after the state saw two days of record-setting fatalities last week and surpassed 9,000 coronavirus-related deaths. Some counties continue to be hit hard as others see a decline in severity. On Tuesday, San Bernardino County reported 59 additional deaths — its highest single-day count to date.

Hospitalization data are collected differently from the state’s test result numbers, which is gathered through CALredie — an electronic system that feeds information from laboratories to the state and local health systems.

California Department of Public Health officials are trying to determine “where data is getting stuck,” Ghaly said.

“We’re not sure when we’ll have a definitive fix to the problem.”

In the meantime, the health department is implementing manual processes to retrieve the information. Ghaly stressed the importance of focusing on long-term trends over snapshot data during a news briefing Tuesday afternoon.

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