‘Horrific’ data glitch distorts key Iowa coronavirus metrics

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IOWA CITY, Iowa – State agency says it is working to correct a data error on the Iowa coronavirus website that is reducing the number of new confirmed cases and therefore downplaying the severity of the outbreak current, just as schools decide whether or not to reopen.

The problem means the Iowa Department of Public Health has inadvertently reported fewer new infections and a smaller percentage of daily positive tests than is actually the case, according to Dana Jones, a nurse practitioner from the Iowa City who discovered the problem. This is especially important because school districts rely on state data to determine whether they will offer in-person instruction when school resumes in the days and weeks to come.

Rather, thousands of coronavirus infections over the past few weeks and months have been mistakenly recorded as occurring in March, April, May and June, Jones said on Monday.

“It’s just awful. We have no idea what’s going on, really, ”Jones said.

The numbers are skewed because some people tested negative earlier, but recently tested positive. The Iowa System recorded their new positive results as having occurred when their original negative results were reported.

“This is one of the worst data errors that could occur right now,” said Megan Srinivas, infectious disease physician in Fort Dodge, Iowa. “We are making these political appeals on the basis of completely wrong numbers and this needs to be recognized.”

She said the situation means the prevalence of infection in Iowa and the current trajectory of the pandemic is worse than people think.

An official with the Iowa Department of Public Health confirmed the issue in an email to Jones on Friday. He said a system-generated date on which test results are released to the state remains the same when an individual subsequently tests positive.

“We recognize this is a problem and have worked on the logic to address it,” wrote Rob Ramaekers, the chief epidemiologist in the department’s surveillance unit. He added: “A similar situation occurs with the calculation of the positive percentage. We have raised the issue and are actively working to resolve it. ”

But the state has yet to publicly announce the error. Amy McCoy, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health, told The Associated Press that she hoped to have more information on the matter soon.

The total number of more than 52,600 in Iowa who have tested positive since March is unaffected – a per capita rate that is 17th highest among states and highest in the Midwest, according to Johns University Hopkins. But the current curve looks flatter than it should and recent positive test rates are lower than they should be, Jones said.

School districts use a state-calculated 14-day positivity rate to determine whether they should reopen classrooms to students and teachers. Governor Kim Reynolds has ordered schools to provide at least 50% in-person instruction as long as the local positivity rate drops below 15% – a threshold three to five times higher than what many public health experts deem sure. So far, only a handful of districts meet this threshold.

Many districts had considered starting the year with only virtual classes due to safety concerns related to the pandemic, but the new mandate encouraged them to adopt hybrid plans in which students take part-time in-person classes. . Some districts have pushed back their start dates to early September and are still deciding how to proceed.

Mike Beranek, president of the Iowa State Education Association, a union representing teachers, said Monday that school districts should put their reopening decisions on hold until the data is fully corrected.

Jones has been tracking the number of cases released by the state on a daily basis and has been baffled in recent weeks when cases from March, April and other earlier dates were regularly added without explanation. She believes thousands of cases may have been wrongly dated.

The number of coronavirus deaths reported in Iowa stood at 979 on Monday and could exceed 1,000 this week. The number of coronavirus patients hospitalized statewide, 283, is at its highest level since June 5.

Eli Perencevich, a senior infectious disease researcher at the University of Iowa, said the state’s goal of reopening schools was initially dangerously high and data errors did that make the situation worse. He said the number of cases in the state was already artificially low as it excludes results of antigen tests used by some local hospitals.

“There are a lot of little things like this that add up to huge things, where we massively underestimate cases in the state,” he said. “These two elements should be announced, corrected and clarified immediately. “

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