Another COVID Data Snafu, This Time over Case Count

State Reporting System Is Experiencing ‘Technological Issues’

Dr. Beth Prinz tests a patient outside a clinic in Goleta. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

Just a few days after Santa Barbara County health officials made the stunning announcement they had accidentally underreported regional COVID deaths by a count of 28, they admitted on Tuesday to yet another major data error. This time, technological issues with the state’s coronavirus database has led to a “significant” underreporting of new local cases over the past 10 days, said Dr. Henning Ansorg, Santa Barbara County’s health officer.

Therefore, Ansorg said, the recent rosy statistics showing a drop in Santa Barbara cases were inaccurate. “I was happy to see lower numbers,” he said. “That is really discouraging now.” Governor Gavin Newsom made similar remarks about decreasing statewide figures at his own press conference. Both Ansorg and Newsom said IT strike teams are working around the clock to fix the problem.

The glitch hasn’t affected patient care or the turnaround time of test results, Ansorg emphasized. Nor has it impacted data collected on hospitalizations and death rates. The county’s Public Health Department web page devoted to COVID-19 status reports now features this disclaimer: The state’s electronic disease reporting system has been experiencing issues processing incoming reports. Therefore, recent data published on the SB County Public Health COVID-19 dashboards are likely to be an underestimate of true cases in the county. This disclaimer will be in place until the state reporting issue is rectified.

The Health Department announced three new COVID deaths on Tuesday, bringing Santa Barbara County’s total to 64. Hospitalizations sit at 88, down just one patient from the all-time high of 89 last week, with 25 people being treated in intensive care units.

“Unfortunately, we see our numbers here in Santa Barbara County trending up and not down,” said Ansorg. “A very concerning trend we are seeing across California and the nation is that younger people are now the majority of cases.” In Santa Barbara, more people in their twenties are getting COVID than residents between 50 and 70, and more children are contracting it than the elderly, Ansorg said. In fact, the highest concentration of new cases lie within the 30-40 age range.

“I’m pleading with the younger generation,” Ansorg said. “Please, avoid gathering with those not in your immediate household. Understand you are at risk for getting this virus, and you will spread it to more vulnerable people.”

Since last week’s announcement of underreported deaths, when officials vowed to increase staffing, the Health Department has brought on an intern and is in the process of hiring an additional epidemiologist and part-time deputy health officer. “We are making strides to onboard people who will be able to help us with getting data improved,” Ansorg said.

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