Monday wasn’t the first time experts have had to call out Iowa’s data reporting of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Look, we all make mistakes. It’s humans writing the code, it’s humans reporting data, it’s humans reviewing the data.
The Ottumwa Courier has an aggressive corrections policy and has procedures in place to prevent errors. But we understand probably as well as anyone things happen.
When errors happen, the entity that makes them should work swiftly to correct the error, then work to figure out what caused the error to happen.
On Monday, the Associated Press reported that an Iowa City nurse practitioner discovered what amounts to a massive error in the state’s coronavirus reporting, which altered significantly the positivity rate that’s so vital in determining whether kids will return to school in-person this fall, or if they will need to start the year online.
The issues lie with those who have been tested more than once since the pandemic hit Iowa in mid-March. Perhaps in May, an individual tested negative. But that same individual was tested again in August and this time tested positive.
The state’s data, erroneously, was recording that the positive test happened in May instead of August. This has a huge impact on the positivity rate, which is the number of cases positive in the last 14 days divided by the number of tests in the last 14 days, on a county level.
The state says this is an error in coding logic, and they are working to fix it.
That it took a nurse in Iowa City to find this error is alarming. The state has a duty to regularly audit its own data — it has a very capable auditor’s office available to it if need be. This error seems like one they should have been able to catch before the data went live.
Data has many times been inconsistent on the state’s website over the pandemic. And regular people notice — several have pointed out the state’s errors to us. Repeated errors break down confidence in the public.
Combine that with an administration run by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds that hasn’t been overly forthcoming with information, it’s no wonder her approval rating is so low among her constituents.
The state has put up smoke and mirrors but still fails to report a lot of information we would consider basic, and in some cases has stopped reporting the information.
For instance, deaths are not reported on a nursing home level. Once nursing homes have an outbreak end, they are removed from the site. Demographics for those who recover and those who die are only available on a statewide basis, not a county level.
Many governments, whether a state, county or city, report virus numbers based on the ZIP code of residence, instead of county. The Reynolds administration has access to this, but the people do not.
Many problems persist with Iowa’s response to COVID-19, both in terms of data reporting and transparency. We are five months into this pandemic. They need to be addressed, now.