'We're feeling blind': Misreported data makes COVID-19 situation look better than it is, Santa Clara Co. health officer says

State officials believe the number of new COVID-19 cases in California has been underreported for days or even weeks.

ByAlix Martichoux via KGO logo
Thursday, August 6, 2020
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Underreported COVID-19 data is making the situation look better than it is, says Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody. She explains how the misreporting is affecting Santa Clara County's forecast.

SANTA CLARA CO., Calif. (KGO) -- The coronavirus pandemic is far from over, Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody warned in a Wednesday press conference, and misreported COVID-19 data at the state level may be making the situation look rosier than it actually is.

"Just as we had back in February and March when we didn't have enough testing, we felt blind," Cody said. "I would say that right now... we're back to feeling blind."

State officials believe the number of new COVID-19 cases in California has been underreported for days or even weeks. Cody said the problem goes back to mid-July.

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"We just don't know. We don't know if our cases are rising, plateauing or decreasing," Cody said. "It's not just inconvenient, but this lack of data doesn't allow us to know where the epidemic is heading, how fast it's growing or not."

Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in recent days that California has not been receiving a full count of tests conducted, or positive results, through electronic lab reports because of the unresolved issue, which he did not describe in detail. The state's data page now carries a disclaimer saying the numbers "represent an underreporting of actual positive cases" per day.

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Santa Clara County's hospitalization numbers, which are being accurately recorded, offer some picture of whether the coronavirus crisis is worsening. While hospitalizations rose rapidly in the first few weeks of July, Cody said they have plateaued in recent days. One hundred and sixty-nine patients remain hospitalized with the virus in the county.

Santa Clara County has been on the state's COVID-19 watch list since July 12.

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When the county was added to the watch list, it was forced to roll back the reopening of hair salons, nail salons and gyms - all of which had just reopened for business 48 hours prior.

As of Wednesday morning, the county is just above the case rate threshold that would require it to stay on the watch list.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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