Collin County plans to add a disclaimer to its COVID-19 dashboard that says the county does not have confidence in the accuracy of the data currently being provided by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Collin County commissioners decided to add the disclaimer to its dashboard during a discussion Aug. 17 about the backlog of coronavirus test results submitted by several commercial laboratories last week to DSHS.
As the backlogged test results are added to the electronic reporting system, some counties are receiving notification of COVID-19 positive results that were previously diagnosed but not reported to the local health department at the time the test was completed. For this reason, the statewide confirmed case counts and some county case counts have recently included some older cases. DSHS works daily with laboratories to facilitate reporting to ensure local jurisdictions receive timely laboratory reports. Patients were notified at the time of diagnosis through a separate process, according to state officials.
DSHS already includes a disclaimer on its dashboard for Collin County as well as the one for Texas that states "all data are provisional and subject to change."
"Collin County chose to have the state take over its COVID-19 case investigations and contact tracing and to use DSHS data for its public reporting," DSHS officials said in an emailed statement. "Since that transition in June, DSHS has been providing the most complete data available each day. As with all COVID-19 data, it is subject to change as more information comes in."
DSHS' statement also said the agency recently upgraded the system that processes lab reports to keep up with the demands of the COVID-19 response.
"That cleared a backlog of test results and allowed DSHS to identify issues with how three labs were submitting results, preventing them from getting to public health departments," DSHS officials said in the statement. "Those issues have been resolved and didn’t affect notifying individuals of their results. DSHS will continue to work with labs to ensure they are reporting test results promptly and accurately."
County Administrator Bill Bilyeu said the state does not gather data on recoveries from the county and is not removing active cases at the same frequency as Collin County.
“My confidence level in these numbers had already been at nil, so now hearing that we have 100% confidence that they're inaccurate, I think we're doing a disservice to our community by putting these numbers out there and saying, ‘This is what's going on in Collin County,’ ” Collin County Judge Chris Hill said.
Hill initially made a motion to remove the COVID-19 dashboard from the county website completely, but later withdrew the motion after further discussion with commissioners.
Commissioner Susan Fletcher made a motion to add the disclaimer to the dashboard.
“Collin County is providing COVID-19 numbers and data as a convenience to our residents,” Fletcher said in her motion. “However, because we have been made aware of the inaccuracy in state reporting, we must advise that Collin County does not have confidence in the accuracy of the data currently being provided by the state.”
Her motion was later approved 4-0. Commissioner Duncan Webb was absent from the meeting.
Bilyeu said there was a limited amount of room on the dashboard and suggested adding the disclaimer as the main image on the middle block where the maps of cases by city and ZIP codes are currently located. Those maps will still be able to be clicked on by users.
The county administrator also suggested changing the source for local deaths to DSHS to be consistent with the remainder of the dashboard. As of Aug. 17, the county dashboard was reporting 100 deaths sourced from Collin County Health Care Services, but that agency does not have access to death certificates for people who die outside the county, Bilyeu said. DSHS does have that access, but Bilyeu said he does not believe the state agency has received all of the county’s death certificates, as the state's dashboard was reporting 90 deaths on Aug. 17.
Commissioners agreed to the change and to have another discussion on the accuracy of the dashboard in the near future.
Collin County previously turned over handling all new case investigations and contact tracings of COVID-19 to DSHS’ Texas Health Trace system June 1.