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California virus cases underreported, health official says

A technical problem has caused a lag in California’s tally of coronavirus test results, casting doubt on the accuracy of recent data showing improvements in the infection rate and hindering efforts to track the spread.

Posted: Aug 4, 2020 3:31 PM
Updated: Aug 5, 2020 8:37 AM

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Figures showing California has slowed the rate of coronavirus infections may be in doubt because a technical problem has delayed reporting of test results, the state’s top health official said.

For days, California hasn’t received full counts on the number of tests conducted nor the number that come back positive for COVID-19, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Tuesday.

He blamed an unspecified technical problem affecting the state’s database that provides test results to local health departments. Ghaly said it’s unclear when the issue would be fixed, adding that the state is relaying information manually to county health officials.

The announcement came a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom gave his most optimistic report on the state’s virus efforts since a second surge of cases in early June. Newsom said daily cases had dropped by an average of 2,200 in the last week and the infection rate of 6.1% was significantly lower than the nearly 8% recorded last month.

The latest daily tally posted Tuesday on California’s COVID-19 data page showed 4,526 additional confirmed positives, the lowest total in more than six weeks and a precipitous drop from the record of nearly 13,000 reported two weeks ago.

However, the page now carries a disclaimer saying the actual daily number of positive cases is being underreported.

At issue is CalREDIE, a state system that electronically receives COVID-19 test data from lab providers. The name is short for the California Reportable Disease Information Exchange.

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

Counties including Orange and Sacramento have noted the delays, and Placer County posted on its website that its virus cases are likely underestimated as a result.

Wendy Hetherington, Riverside County’s chief of epidemiology and program evaluation, said she believes hundreds of cases a day haven’t been reported in her county since late last week.

That makes it hard to find newly infected individuals and to reach out to people who’ve had close contact with them in order to trace and reduce the spread of the virus.

“We’re delaying case investigations. We’re delaying follow up,” she said, adding: “Until this lab issue is fixed, we can’t really say what the true picture is.”

Los Angeles County health officials said the state convened an emergency call Monday night to discuss the issue. Now, a team from the county is reaching out to more than 80 labs to obtain test results for the past nine days to determine an accurate case count, and set up a system to receive data directly in the future so contact tracing efforts aren’t delayed, the county’s health department said in a statement.

Even with the underreporting of cases, California has recorded more positive tests than any other state, about 520,000.

Ghaly said hospitalization data, which doesn’t run through the same troubled system, has seen signs of improvement. The latest count Tuesday showed 6,302 people were hospitalized, a 12% drop from the high recorded in July. Deaths have now topped 9,500.

Aside from the delays, the number of infections is generally thought to be higher than the reported cases because many people haven’t been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick. For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

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California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 796436

Reported Deaths: 15291
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles2633336423
Riverside576951173
San Bernardino53121908
Orange525381176
San Diego45425767
Kern31647357
Fresno27944362
Sacramento21800393
Alameda20839395
Santa Clara20648300
San Joaquin20060434
Stanislaus16425342
Contra Costa16156202
Tulare15782257
Ventura12507146
Imperial11658317
San Francisco1090199
San Mateo9664144
Monterey964570
Santa Barbara8952111
Merced8803140
Kings754477
Sonoma7225120
Marin6620114
Solano623260
Madera442465
Placer352343
San Luis Obispo345327
Butte277640
Yolo277355
Santa Cruz22838
Sutter168610
Napa165213
San Benito131411
Yuba11337
El Dorado10784
Mendocino88718
Shasta75114
Lassen7360
Glenn5683
Tehama5294
Nevada5256
Colusa5226
Lake51611
Humboldt4906
Calaveras31414
Amador28716
Tuolumne2264
Inyo18714
Mono1652
Siskiyou1630
Del Norte1381
Mariposa752
Plumas500
Modoc250
Trinity150
Sierra60
Alpine20
Unassigned00
Chico
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Oroville
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A weak disturbance passed over northern California early this morning, but as expected, it only brought some gusty wind, a few clouds, slightly cooler weather, and no rain. Much bigger changes to our weather will occur this weekend.
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