Protesting virus data in Texas increases government destruction

Discrepancies and problems with the Kovid-19 data collection in Texas have clouded the picture of the epidemic trajectory in the state, to the point that some residents and officials say they cannot rely on the numbers to tell What is really going on

The state has ignored thousands of cases, only to report them weeks after infection. It has made major adjustments to its case and death counts, defining them in one way and then another, suddenly reporting figures for some counties that were completely different from those posted by the local health department.

“The state has several public health departments in change and data reporting realizing a significant case of whiplash,” said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirainberg.

The daunting task of coronovirus cases and real-time deaths has put public health departments across the country under stress. But no one has shown more repeated cracks than Texas.

The state has faced these data problems as the summer transition increased and schools and colleges began to decline again. Changes in state figures have been large enough to affect national trends, and have sown confusion and mistrust at a time when the state says it needs public support to avoid another boom.

Debra Zucnik of Rockwall County said, “If everyone was calculated in time, people would probably have been more careful, and people might have understood it was real,” where his brother and a friend did not die. The latter is reflected in state and local figures for the following weeks.

Cases and deaths during the summer increased in Texas, according to a database in the New York Times, which uses data from both the state and the county. But with an average of more than 3,500 new cases a day in September, the virus is still spreading rapidly in many areas of the state.

Public health officials and researchers have blamed Texas for its reliance on archaic data systems and fax test results for state data problems, limiting its ability to track every infection and death across many of the state’s 254 counties . They also say that the decentralized structure of the vast state – with many local governments, some of them small, running their own public health operations – is ill equipped to counter with the crush of the Kovid-19.

“This is a massive undertaking, and because it is happening in real time, there will inevitably be situations where we will have to do some updates or corrections,” said Chris Van Dusen, spokesman for the Texas Department of Health.

“These are 57 strong, independent organizations in Texas that will do what they do,” he said, referring to the state’s local health departments. “This is the situation in us.”

Other states are also grappling with some of these data challenges, including glits and backlogs in California and a debate on transparency in Florida. But Texas, even as it tried to improve it, has been troubled by several issues.

In August, after upgrading one of its reporting systems, Texas discovered a backlog of thousands of positive test results that the state and its laboratories had overlooked or worsened in late spring and summer. This means that case counts in some counties were artificially low for months – and would be artificially high in the last weeks of August and in September as the dropped cases were reportedly linked.

Dallas County reported 5,361 cases were confirmed in a single day in mid-August when there were just 166 actual new cases in the county; The rest were from the state backlog. The state has since added a few thousand more backlog cases, many dating from June or July.

Dallas County Director of Health and Human Services Drs. “It’s definitely very disappointing for all of us,” said Philip Huang. “If there is a large backlog or delay, it does not reflect the actual number of people who test positive today, or even two days earlier.”

Public health experts and local officials say the backlogs represent thousands of missed opportunities to perform contact tracing on time, and Public reason suspected Of data.

But state officials said that knowing about earlier backlog cases would not have changed the overall trend in the state or the guidance given to the public. And they say that the reporting system upgrade, despite its flaws, shows that Texas is headed in the right direction.

“The data we have is far more accurate than in the previous month, and maybe a few weeks ago,” Gov. Greg Abbott said on August 23, after the backlog case surfaced. “This data should be completely accurate in the coming weeks and months to come.”

Even though the backlog is low, confusion about the cases remains because state and local health departments do not report them equally. While the state includes confirmed cases based on molecular testing, antigen testing in at least 17 counties, based on symptoms or risk of an infected person, potential cases are reported, as by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Is recommended.

The difference in case counts raises suspicion among the public, said Annette Rodríguez, health director of the Corpus Christi Nulois County Public Health District, which reports 11 to 4,000 more cumulative cases.

“That makes them question: who is right?” Who is not? Who is reliable? “

In late July, Texas prolonged deaths from coronoviruses. It began to base its calculations on death certificates filed with the state, which often rely on reports from hospitals and physicians, rather than collecting data from local health department websites. The change was consistent and comparable to making it taller for all 254 counties, but it has distorted data for many locations, confusing residents and local authorities.

This change led the state to add 675 deaths in a single day – which is clearly visible on the national death curve.

Then, the next day, the state reduced its new figure to over 200, citing an “automation error”.

The state rally for Harris County, which includes Houston, made the biggest jump: from 636 deaths on July 27 to 1,100 on July 27. The county noted only 10 deaths in the same 24-hour period; The spike was mainly due to a method change of state.

In other counties, the state’s new law found lower figures than the websites of local health departments. The next day of this change, Hidalgo County said in the hard-hit Rio Grande Valley that its cumulative death toll was 531; The state figure was 254.

Hidalgo officials said the discrepancy was probably caused by a delay of up to three weeks in the county’s issuance of death certificates. In a detailed letter on Facebook, he said that the state had made the change without consulting him.

Mr. Van Dusen, the state’s public health spokesman, said it could “better communicate about local jurisdictions.”

In more than 100 comments posted on Facebook in response to the county’s letter, a Facebook user wrote, “Do you understand that these inconsistencies lead all of us to think that you are hypnotizing numbers?”

Dave montgomery Contributed to reporting.