One day after the State of California and local officials revealed a technical glitch in the state’s reporting system has resulted in an undercount of new coronavirus cases, the state reported a new record number of deaths.
According to the California coronavirus dashboard, 200 lives were lost in the state over the previous 24 hours. That’s up from the previous high of 197, reported last Wednesday.
The data glitch reportedly only impacts new case numbers, not those for deaths or hospitalizations.
Governor Gavin Newsom has been uncharacteristically quiet on the matter. While he gave an update on the state’s battle with the virus on Monday, on Tuesday his director of public health, Dr. Mark Ghaly, gave an online presentation and confirmed the news. Newsom did not hold a news conference on Wednesday, either.
Since Monday, the governor has not posted a statement regarding the undercounts on his web site.
In the past two days, Newsom’s frequently-updated Twitter account has posts about the census, Proposition 8, the NRA and one pinned tweet about wearing a mask, but there is no mention of the data glitch. Ditto his official Governor of California account as well as his Facebook and Instagram accounts.
During that period, the governor did announce coronavirus waiver requirements for schools. He also announced the signing of a tribal compact, revealed several new appointments and issued a statement on the loss of nine service members.
The governor’s absence is made even more curious given his recurrent insistence that the state’s decision-making is “data-driven,” including the decision to reopen after his statewide stay-at-home order.
One wonders if the state’s actions might have been different over the past few days and if the current spike in deaths — themselves a lagging indicator — might have been flattened if state and local officials had had the accurate, higher case data and been able to act on that earlier.
Information on the data glitch came in drips.
Riverside County first 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 in case reporting this week.”
The notice went on to say that local health officials had first been made aware of the reporting issue on Friday.
Two other counties, Sacramento and Placer, posted disclaimers to their COVID-19 dashboards. Placer added a message Monday and Sacramento added a warning early Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the following brief statement appeared on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard: “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 more 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 added, “so that we can validate and make sure that our numbers are accurate.”
The state reported 5,295 new cases on Wednesday and 4,526 new cases on Tuesday. Those numbers are less than half of the record 12,807 the state reported on July 22. It is unclear how much the undercount has impacted them, but officials have confirmed they are an undercount.
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