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North Carolina officials said Wednesday that lab reporting errors since April caused the state to over-report about 221,000 more coronavirus tests than were performed.
The state Department of Health and Human Services said the mistakes don’t change the total number of new cases reported and the percentage of positive tests — two key metrics used to determine how to respond to the pandemic.
“We are committed to transparency, we are in a pandemic,” said Dr. Mandy Cohen, DHHS secretary, to reporters Wednesday afternoon.
The inaccurate data has been reported since late April because of a LabCorp reporting error that included some out-of-state tests that were manually submitted.
North Carolina now reports more than 1.8 million coronavirus tests have been conducted, not 2 million. The North Carolina COVID-19 data dashboard has been updated with the new information while also showing the old, inaccurate data.
A disclaimer also notes that the error didn’t affect how results were reported to patients or doctors.
“Although this reporting error impacts our count of total tests completed, it does not alter our key metrics or change our understanding of COVID-19 transmission in North Carolina, which shows stabilization over the last few weeks,” Cohen said in a press release Wednesday.
The state has reported its daily coronavirus later than expected for three days this week.
DHHS says its COVID-19 data, including hospitalizations, is preliminary and subject to revision.
NC COVID-19 cases reported
On Wednesday, the state reported 45 additional COVID-19 deaths Wednesday and 1,166 new lab-confirmed coronavirus cases.
The state reported 626 new coronavirus cases on Monday, the smallest increase in more than two months. A DHHS spokeswoman on Monday attributed that low number to late data reported.
Cohen said in news conference Wednesday that Monday’s low case number was not a result of error, but of “working hard on our trends.” New reported cases routinely dip on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesday, Cohen said, which is why health officials look at metrics over 14-day periods.
“We’re seeing stabilization over multiple metrics,” she said, and taken together, the information shows “viral spread is slowing.”
More than 139,000 people in the state have confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic started in March. That is likely an undercount because coronavirus tests were not rationed in the early months. Now, people do not need a doctor’s referral or to show symptoms to get tested.
Hospitalizations of people with COVID-19 declined Tuesday, to 1,062, with 91% of hospitals reporting. Seven percent of coronavirus tests were positive Tuesday.
COVID-19 deaths reached 2,249, with the additional 45 reported Wednesday.
How the data error happened
According to the DHHS news release, data is submitted to the state both manually and electronically.
Patients’ data is primarily submitted electronically, but about 20% is submitted manually to determine the total cases.
Aggregate data from labs is provided via “manual communications,” the release said. This data is used to report the daily and cumulative report of total tests performed and is not used in calculations for case totals and percentage of positive tests.
LabCorp home-lab testing kits from out-of-state were included in the numbers the company manually submitted to DHHS.
Electronic data the company submitted was accurate, Brian Caveney, chief medical officer and president of LabCorp Diagnostics, said in the release.
“LabCorp’s daily electronically reported data was accurate and unaffected by the error, and this issue does not affect other states or any results reported to patients or their providers,” Caveney said in the release.
Cohen said separate teams that work with manual data and electronic data got together last week and found the discrepancy.
DHHS said it is adding more people to its public health data team and improving its data collection process.
“We want to take humans out of the process and make it more automated,” Cohen said.