The gap between what state officials and local authorities are claiming in the number of COVID-19 cases in Wapello County is a clear concern.

On Thursday, Wapello County Emergency Management Coordinator Tim Richmond led off his agency’s weekly talking points update with a bid to explain those differences. He said they could be explained by “duplicate cases” and called the differences “clerical things that happen in these type of events.”

He’s not wrong in one sense. When there are mass events, and this pandemic is certainly in that category, there are often differences in the information coming in to different levels of government. It does take time to sort those out.

Timing of the reports can potentially explain differences on a given day. The cutoffs for local and state data are different, and if a batch of results arrives in between those times it could easily make a given day’s totals look completely different. So the existence of a gap is not, in and of itself, a problem.

What is an issue is the fact this gap is growing, rather than being reconciled. A difference caused by timing of reports or similar factors should be simple enough to reconcile within a day or two. That isn’t happening here.

The reason such a gap is of critical importance is not the disease itself, not at this point. It’s because of the effect such a gap can have on the credibility of the officials people depend on. The virus has, by any measure, increased its presence in Wapello County significantly over the past week.

Testing has risen, and it has resulted in an unusually high percentage of positive tests. Iowans have seen such signatures before, and they have been the hallmarks of site-specific outbreaks.

Transparency is critical, and it has not been forthcoming in Iowa. Instead, the story has been one of denial and delays, followed by the release of more information. That pattern has applied to documents, studies, and information on the pandemic’s progress.

Remember, state officials insisted for weeks privacy laws blocked information from being released about specific locations of outbreaks. Now they publicly track outbreaks at long-term care facilities. Officials said they couldn’t identify businesses, until the state began this week publicly naming locations that had outbreaks that met certain criteria.

It’s the kind of gap that gives conspiracy theorists a field day. Given that there are already too many people claiming this disease is fake, that it’s being blown out of proportion and that, somehow, they know more than epidemiologists who have spent a lifetime studying infectious disease, that’s dangerous.

We’re not sure what is going wrong in the process of reconciling the numbers given by state and local officials. But it’s clear something is off. And it needs to be rectified. Local resident simply cannot afford to be given such sharply different takes on where things stand.

We believe the experts at both levels have plenty of incentive to be accurate, but there needs to be a quick, focused effort to figure out where the differences in this county are coming from.

This gap needs to be resolved, and there needs to be a clear explanation given for why it grew to this extent along with what will be done to prevent such situations in the future.

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