During their meeting on Monday, the Collin County Commissioners Court agreed to publish a disclaimer on their COVID-19 dashboard cautioning residents about the reliability of the data as provided by Texas’ Department of State Health Services (DSHS).
In the earlier stages of the pandemic, the county handled more of the coronavirus data collection and publishing, but DSHS has since taken a more prominent role.
Now, all of the data published on the Collin County dashboard is pulled from the statewide information collected by DSHS.
The county administrator said that their dashboard has received 1.4 million views.
With the recent backlog of data that the state released last week, which caused the positivity rate to skyrocket and then plummet, county officials were concerned about continuing to relay faulty data to their residents.
The delays and inaccuracies in reporting new cases was just one of several problems with the data that the commissioners court was concerned about.
“During our discussion on Monday [. . .] we talked about the inaccuracies that currently exist in the total number of cases, the number of recoveries, the number of active cases, the number of deaths, and the number of hospitalizations,” Collin County Judge Chris Hill told The Texan.
With respect to recoveries, Hill said until May 31 when the state began handling more cases, Collin County consistently reported COVID-19 recovery numbers with the local health department contacting infected individuals to verify when they met the criteria for being recovered.
DSHS has taken a different approach to reporting recovery numbers by providing an estimated number rather than contacting every patient directly.
Hill said that he has been told the state’s estimates for recoveries are based on a 30-day mark from the time of the positive test.
While such an estimate may be in the correct ballpark, there are many COVID-19 patients who recover much quicker than 30 days and some who are hospitalized for even longer.
“So we know that the number of active cases is inflated because there are people on that list who are recovered and yet have not been marked as recovered, so they are still marked as active,” said Hill.
Hospitalizations and deaths are other metrics that the state and local governments have reported differently.
Hill said that Collin County had reported hospitalizations by counting every resident who was hospitalized, even if they were in a hospital outside of the county line.
DSHS, on the other hand, has resorted to listing the number of hospitalized patients in a county as that county’s number.
As a result, residents of neighboring rural counties who are patients in Collin County hospitals would be included in Collin’s total, according to the state data.
The number of deaths reported by the state is also inconsistent with those reported by the county.
Hill said that while the county had counted 102 deaths, the state had reported 95 for the same day.
“If somebody asks me, ‘How many people who live in Collin County have died from COVID?’ I could not tell them,” said Hill. “I could tell them that I’ve heard 95, 98, 102, but it’s inconsistent and it doesn’t just go up. It goes up and down.”
Although the state has clear inconsistencies and inaccuracies with its data, Hill said that he didn’t believe DSHS needs “to work harder or smarter” on more accurate information.
“I’m confident that the governor has smart and talented people working on this problem. We certainly know that they’ve spent enough money and resources responding to COVID-19. So it’s not an issue of needing more money, or needing to work harder or smarter. Rather, I think it’s time for us, collectively as a society, to admit that we don’t need dashboards to make our daily decisions,” said Hill.
Hill made a comparison to influenza, pointing out that while there is no efficient means of gathering data on it, everyone from a public health standpoint is “okay with that because we understand what influenza is and how it works and how it operates.”
“It’s time for us to focus our attention on the recovery of our economy, keeping our families healthy, getting our children in school, and we all need to do what the doctors and scientists tell us to do anyway: practice good hygiene, stay home when we’re not feeling well, and do those things that keep our communities safe and healthy on a daily basis.”
Disclosure: Unlike almost every other media outlet, The Texan is not beholden to any special interests, does not apply for any type of state or federal funding, and relies exclusively on its readers for financial support. If you’d like to become one of the people we’re financially accountable to, click here to subscribe.
Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.