Official: ‘Discrepancies’ in state’s lab system may have resulted in undercount of COVID-19 cases

As California saw a drop in COVID-19 numbers earlier this week, a top health official suggested that discrepancies in the state’s electronic data system may have resulted in undercounts of cases.

California Health and Humans Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said on Tuesday, August 4 that “some discrepancies” have been discovered in the state system over the past few days.

“There is a specific component that feeds information from labs to both the state system and the local public health system that may actually be the place where data is getting stuck,” said Ghaly.

On Tuesday, a message on the state’s COVID-19 dashboard said that due to “issues” with the state’s electronic laboratory system, “these data represent an underreporting of actual positive cases in one single day.”

Ghaly said the glitches may be a result of high volumes of coronavirus case data “testing the capacity” of the state’s CalREDIE (California Reportable Disease Information Exchange) system.

The announcement came after California Governor Newsom, announced a drop in the state’s seven-day average of new coronavirus cases to 7,764 per day from the previous week’s average of 9,859 per day — a decline of about 21.2%.

The last time the state saw such low numbers was on July 5.

Ghaly said that “the seven-day positivity rate is absolutely affected by this.”

Hospitalization and intensive care unit (ICU) data — both of which have somewhat slowed down across the state — however, were not affected by the system issues.

Ghaly said he felt “confident” that hospitalization numbers in California were beginning to stabilize as Newsom had said on Monday, August 3.

Newsom reported a 10% drop in COVID-19 related hospitalizations and a 5% drop in ICU admissions over 14 days, before reminding people that a second wave was still possible.
While the system glitches represented issues with state numbers, Ghaly acknowledged that California counties have also reported lower numbers.

“Many counties depend upon the state’s information to keep their own data up to date,” Ghaly said. “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,” he added. “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.”

Speaking more on the potential impact the undercounting may have on contact tracing efforts, he said, “It is absolutely hampered without the data.”

While it is still unclear for how long and to what extent the glitches have been affecting data, Ghaly said that state officials were “working around the clock” to fix the issue.

“We are not sure when we will have a definite fix to the problem,” Ghaly said.

In the meantime, he added, “We are working on parallel processes — manual processes — to get the same information through the CalREDIE system to local public health departments.”

As of Tuesday, the state has recorded 519,427 cases and 9,501 fatalities.

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