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Report COVID-19 data with urgency and with accuracy

Urgency is critical in reporting the number of local COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and the number of deaths.

Timely reporting of these facts and statistics is critical, but what’s more important is accuracy.

In light of a number of reporting errors and omissions by the Ohio Department of Health and in an effort to guarantee better accuracy, Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday announced the state will slow the release of some of these facts in order to help ensure accuracy.

Indeed, the number of errors and problems that keep cropping up with the control of state figures is problematic.

Three weeks ago, for instance, ODH disclosed it had underreported the number of COVID-19 deaths in the state by more than 4,200.

Now, ODH says it will count “only verified mortality” COVID-19 fatalities from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s electronic death registration system.

The CDC method is expected to take longer to verify COVID-19 as the cause of death, Stephanie McCloud, ODH director, said.

Officials were clear the change will cause COVID-19 death numbers to decline temporarily. Already, a reduction of 596 COVID-19 deaths statewide were reflected Tuesday, compared with one day earlier.

The state was previously providing COVID-19 death numbers from reconciling two lists: one with initial deaths reported from hospitals, urgent care facilities and health districts, and the other from death certificates.

Indeed, there have been other errors in COVID-19 analysis and reporting since the pandemic began a year ago.

Over the summer, for instance, we reported and commented in this space about our disappointment with discrepancies and misinformation provided by Ohio’s administration on Trumbull County’s COVID-19 “Level 3” designation, and on statistics of cases in surrounding counties.

In July, we had questioned the formulas and process used to designate Trumbull County as “red” in the governor’s color-coded COVID-19 map. At that time, communication and an explanation were seriously lacking.

Other errors have included reports of inaccurate numbers of COVID-19 cases at nursing homes, including one in Poland. ODH corrected an erroneous listing last week after a newspaper reporter questioned it.

Now, we would be remiss if we did not point out that not everything about the state’s handling of this pandemic has been bad or wrong. For instance, the state has done well in its overall rollout of inoculations, especially given the challenges created by inadequate numbers of available shots from producers.

But the release of accurate and timely information is critical. Let’s face it, as we’ve learned by the rise and fall of the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths caused by this virus, surges occur quickly. Now, some doctors and health experts are predicting new spring surges of COVID-19, despite the growing number of vaccinations. It’s important the public is alerted to these trends as they develop.

Undoubtedly, we urge the state to get these numbers right. If it takes time to figure out a better, more accurate reporting system, do that now.

Still, we urge a speedy reporting system on all numbers, including deaths, in order to keep residents — readers like you — informed and completely up to date.

editorial@tribtoday.com

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