Nine months into the COVID-19 pandemic, those tasked with the data used to make critical decisions regarding businesses, medical facilities and schools are still sometimes providing incomplete or imprecise data at a time when such numbers are critical.
Recently, the COVID-19 numbers in Montour County quickly became alarming. In some regard, an increase was to be expected.
From March 21 — the date of the first case in the county — through Dec. 1, Montour County reported 476 cases. From Dec. 2 through Dec. 6, there were 579 cases reported. That either meant there was another significant nursing home outbreak in the county or something was wrong.
The nursing home data in the county has remained virtually unchanged since the outbreak at Grandview Nursing and Rehabilitation was controlled.
The recent surge turned out to be an accounting error due to a lack of full information provided with test kits to the state Department of Health (DOH).
Department spokesman Nate Wardle said “a large health care provider” sent out some tests to help return results faster because of a large volume of testing at the facility.
Some of the results included the testing site address rather than the patient’s address, meaning they were listed as Montour County positives even if the patient was from another county.
It is easy to understand how this happened, but this doesn’t make it any less concerning. Geisinger has been doing its own testing and managing its own results for months. But increases across the region have increased the volume of testing.
No one wants to see them sitting in a lab waiting, so hospital officials likely sought state help to get results faster.
Geisinger and the DOH are working to correct the issue, which will have significant impacts on reported COVID-19 results in the region served by the health system.
On Friday, the DOH took 626 cases away from the county’s total, almost cutting in half what the total number of positives had risen to.
The most significant concern stems from the rush to get the results into the county and statewide database so quickly. State health officials, on multiple occasions, have left Philadelphia County out of its daily data release because it wasn’t complete, wanting to offer a more complete picture.
Here, Montour County officials were scrambling. Seeing the huge spike in numbers, several businesses shut their doors, a responsible thing to do when cases in the county doubled in four days.
Only they didn’t. Cases are on the rise, no doubt about that. People, medical professionals, educators, business owners and residents are on edge to begin with.
This was an obvious outlier that should have set off alarms among the people inputting and reviewing the data and led to a public acknowledgment the numbers were under review.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard and Managing Editor Bill Bowman.