“Troubling” technology issues in the state’s lab reporting system resulted in an undercount of Los Angeles County’s coronavirus cases, which complicates contact tracing efforts, local health officials said Tuesday.
Since labs report coronavirus tests results directly to providers and hospitals, there won’t be delays in people getting their test results back, according to the L.A. County Department of Public Health.
But the statewide issue throws the number of COVID-19 cases reported each day since at least July 26 into question, and affects the health department’s efforts to track down and notify those who may have been exposed to those infected, officials said.
Because of the delays, the county’s health department is asking all residents who test positive for the virus to call 833-540-0473 to connect with a public health specialist.
“While the missing data is troubling and hinders efforts to monitor and reduce the spread of COVID-19, data sources that track other key indicators, including hospitalizations, are not affected by this reporting issue,” Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement.
The department is now independently getting data on residents’ coronavirus test results dating back to July 26 from at least 81 different labs to correct the county’s tally, officials said. A total of 195,614 cases had been confirmed in L.A. County as of Tuesday.
Officials provided no estimates on how many infections may have not been counted.
The health department said it learned of the issues with the state’s system in an emergency call Monday night — after officials reported in a news conference that the number of new cases recorded each day has gone down, at the time saying it shows progress being made in the fight to stop the spread of the virus.
The technical issue did not affect data on COVID-19 deaths or hospitalizations, since they are reported through a different system, according to the California Department of Public Health.
“Hospitalization data for Los Angeles County still shows a decrease, and we continue to be cautiously optimistic that our efforts over the past few weeks may be starting to slow the spread,” Ferrer said.
There were 1,757 people hospitalized with COVID-19 across L.A. County Tuesday, 31% of them in intensive care units.
L.A. County reported 1,901 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, and 1,634 new cases the day before — both one-day increases are significantly lower than the daily numbers reported in weeks past, which usually surpassed 2,000 cases.
“Public Health is also implementing a system for all labs to report positive test results to the department immediately so that moving forward the department can have an accurate case count and be assured that contact tracing efforts are not delayed,” the department said.
County health officials said they noted issues with the state’s electronic lab reporting system for about two weeks.
On July 29, L.A. County reported a whopping 4,825 new coronavirus cases and a record 91 deaths. At the time, Ferrer said the high numbers are in part due to a backlog of around 2,000 positive test results from the state’s electronic lab reporting system — one that started the week before and lasted for days.
“Once the data reporting issues are fixed, the number of cases is expected to increase,” the health department said.
It’s unclear how long it will take the department to fix the county’s coronavirus case tally.
The state’s health agency said it has deployed a team to check the system’s code and has instructed all laboratories in California to manually report all positive cases to the local public health departments.