State health department freezes coronavirus watchlist, citing flawed data system that rejected crucial case measures – Orange County Register


The California Department of Public Health has frozen the addition and removal of counties from its coronavirus watch list due to major technical errors in its collection of test results.

The predicament leads the state to phase out its old test reporting system, called CalREDIE, and create a new system to receive daily COVID-19 test results from across the state in order to bring back the essential numbers that the Public health officials use it to guide pandemic policies and resources.

“Our data system has failed and this failure has led to inaccurate case counts and positivity rates,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr Mark Ghaly said at a conference. press Friday, adding that resolving the issues had been a top priority this week.

The truncated data has caused a lack of precise information that counties need to properly cope with the pandemic at the local level.

Ghaly said, despite the lack of precise figures, that “case rates continue to follow the trend we see in hospital admissions, showing slight decreases.”

The database problems began on July 25, when a server outage delayed testing of filtered lab records in the state’s reporting system, Ghaly said. A quick solution was therefore provided to allow recordings to enter the system more quickly.

“These technical changes were meant to be temporary. However, they were not subsequently deactivated, which caused further delays in our reports on laboratory data and created a significant backlog, ”he said.

At the same time, state health officials found they were not receiving data from one of California’s largest commercial labs from July 31 through Tuesday August 4. Ghaly did not say whether the lab serves a certain area of ​​the state.

Ghaly said he learned of the extent of the data backlog on Monday afternoon.

Small technical issues have already been addressed, he said, and the state is accelerating the development of a new lab test reporting system.

Ghaly said test data had stabilized since Thursday and that over the weekend a backlog of up to 300,000 COVID-19 and other medical tests would be resolved, “giving us a better idea of the total number of tests that were delayed “.

Coronavirus case rates – the number of new cases per population over two weeks – are part of a set of indicators established by the state’s health department that show how counties are behaving during the pandemic and have oriented decisions such as requiring several lines of business in the most affected counties to close their doors again.

Case rates and test positivity – the share of positive tests on all tests – are affected by how quickly labs can communicate results to state and county health officials.

As of July 23, the state health department has stopped reporting hospital measures, including new hospitalization rates and the availability of intensive care and ventilators, citing new federal reporting requirements. hospitals. The ministry’s website says this data will be updated once the transition is complete.

The data failure that falsely plunged COVID-19 case rates across California almost pushed Orange County measures below thresholds that would have knocked it off the country’s watch list. State.

Dr Clayton Chau, director of the Orange County Health Care Agency and interim health officer, said he first noticed an unexpected drop in test results and the slowdown that has resulted in resulted on case rates on July 23.

On Friday, Chau said the recent case rates posted on a Health Care Agency’s coronavirus tracking site – 104 cases per 100,000 population on Friday – were not accurate due to the database issues of the ‘State.

“The number that people see on our website are actually not updated numbers, so we don’t know what our true updated case rate is at the moment,” he said. .

Chau said local public health officials were eager to see exactly how much Orange County’s case rate would increase once the 300,000 uncounted tests entered the state system. Orange County’s test positivity rate, which has also fallen, is also affected by these technical issues.

The problems have halted some plans to reopen in Orange County.

County leaders said this week they would start accepting applications from elementary schools who want to resume in-person teaching this fall, but Health Care Agency officials said they would not be taken. as long as test report issues are not resolved and actual case rates are not known.

The Orange County Health Care Agency and state health department, on their websites, have been posting day-to-day case rates since June. Case rates over time are not shown.

And test results can take days or weeks to be recorded, blurring the rate of cases and other closely monitored data points.

For example, the county’s case rate calculated on July 23 was 246 cases per 100,000 population. Hundreds of test results added since give a clearer picture and a much higher rate for this date: now 302 cases per 100,000.

The positivity of the tests also increased during this period, suggesting that negative swabs are reported faster than positive ones.


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