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Another inaccurate COVID-19 calculation

State health agency: Report ‘artificially low, incomplete’

The Ohio Department of Health failed yet again to provide an accurate report of COVID-19 cases in the state.

The latest, announced Tuesday by the ODH, was “an artificially low, incomplete COVID-19 case count caused by an electronic laboratory reporting (ELR) processing error.”

Testing data from laboratories across the state is automatically submitted to the ODH through the ELR system.

“ODH received five incorrectly formatted ELR filed from a long-term care facility around 5 p.m.” Monday, according to the statement. “Every file submitted contained both valid lab results and invalid rows of data. The volume of invalid data rows caused a backlog in ODH’s ELR processing systems. This then delayed the processing of confirmed COVID-19 cases from other facilities.”

No lab results were processed since 5 p.m. Monday, according to the ODH statement at 1:40 p.m. Tuesday.

Until the processing backlog is clear and valid lab results go through the system, there will be an undercount, though the ODH indicated it would be for just Tuesday.

The ODH didn’t provide the name of the care facility that caused the problem.

The ODH reported 4,163 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday as a result of the undercount. It is the fewest cases reported in a day since 3,797 were reported Nov. 21 — more than two months ago.

It also was significantly under the 20,335 daily average for the past 21 days in the state.

The ODH reported 9,932 new COVID-19 cases Sunday and 9,774 new cases Monday. Those were the first times since Dec. 27 with 8,092 cases that Ohio had under 10,000 daily cases reported.

The ODH said the latest problem stopped its COVID-19 case count at 5 p.m. Monday so it had no impact on the cases reported Sunday and Monday. The ODH provides its daily COVID-19 data daily at 2 p.m.

Sundays and Mondays are typically the days of the week with the fewest reported COVID-19 cases because of a lag in reporting over the weekend, but it was still the least number for a day in nearly a month. It’s difficult to say if the two days means the number of COVID-19 cases are starting to decline after hitting record highs in the past month.

Through the first 25 days of January, the state has had 504,017 COVID-19 cases. That is significantly more than any other full month since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

The old record for a full month was 325,878 last month. Before that, the record was 279,317 in December 2020.

A positive sign for Ohio in terms of the pandemic comes as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to decrease.

The state was at 5,222 people in hospitals in Ohio with COVID-19 on Tuesday, according to the Ohio Hospital Association. Hospitalizations have declined daily since the Jan. 10 peak of 6,749.

The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations Tuesday is as low as it’s been since Dec. 28 with 5,238.

LATEST PROBLEM

In its Tuesday statement, the ODH said through the pandemic, it “has discovered the impacts of high user demand on antiquated technical systems. ODH continues to take steps to enhance real-time data analysis.”

It was the latest problem with reporting correct COVID-19 data for the ODH.

The department admitted Jan. 14 that it reported more than double its previous record high COVID-19 case number on that day and Jan. 15 because it couldn’t keep an accurate count.

The numbers on those two days were “artificially high” caused “by a processing lag due to the unprecedented number of cases reported.”

It added: “A processing enhancement was implemented late (Jan. 13) to expand the state’s capacity to process a higher volume of lab results, enabling the backlog to begin to clear and to better keep up with daily processing of positive test results.”

Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, ODH director, tried to downplay the problems a few days later.

He said: “When you’re at astronomical levels of spread, you’re at astronomical levels of spread. A few thousand cases are not going to change the calculus.”

A month earlier, the ODH acknowledged “manual reporting errors at two laboratories” resulting in an undercount of 7,699 cases.

On Feb. 10, 2021, the ODH said it failed to report 4,275 COVID-19 deaths, which was more than 1 in every 4 virus-related fatalities in the state at the time. The error was discovered during routine employee training.

The ODH also had incomplete data in fall 2020 and has had numerous issues causing delays in reporting COVID-19 information.

dskolnick@vindy.com

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