A week after adding a disclaimer saying that the county does not have confidence in the accuracy of the data being provided by DSHS, Collin County commissioners unanimously approved the revision during their Aug. 24 meeting.
County Judge Chris Hill said he has had “significant conversations” with DSHS officials about their plans to address issues raised by commissioners. After the revision to the disclaimer was approved, Hill explained DSHS planned to set up a Collin County work group Aug. 25 that will be committed to rectifying the county’s backlog of cases.
“They're going to be working to call everyone who's on that list that's currently active to determine whether or not they're still active or whether or not they're recovered,” he said.
Hill said the work group will be checking whether patients currently classified as active cases of COVID-19 have been symptom-free for 10 days so they can be reclassified as recovered. He also explained that if the group is unable to reach a patient after three attempts, they will be reclassified as recovered.
“They hope that this team of [12 private contractors and an employee supervisor from DSHS] will be able to make quick work of the backlog here in Collin County and get our files updated very quickly,” Hill said. “I'm very appreciative of the work that DSHS has done, responding to the court's concerns and putting resources toward the task of getting us current and accurate [data].”
Earlier in the meeting, Hill motioned to revise the disclaimer to read, “Notice: Collin County is providing COVID-19 numbers and data as a convenience to our residents. However, Department of State Health Services (DSHS) officials have acknowledged that the active case count for Collin County is significantly overstated. We advise residents that Collin County lacks confidence in the data currently being provided to us. DSHS officials have agreed to immediately redirect resources to correct the issue, but have not provided a timeline on when their reports will be corrected.”
That revised wording was then added to the county dashboard Monday afternoon with white text on a red background.
The revision of the first word of the disclaimer to read “notice” instead of “warning” was also included in separate motions made during the meeting by Commissioners Susan Fletcher and Duncan Webb.
Fletcher, who worded the initial disclaimer as part of her Aug. 17 motion but did not include the term “warning” at the beginning, ultimately withdrew her motion so that Webb could offer a revision.
“I will fully admit that in haste last week, as I made this motion trying to keep us from pulling the entire dashboard down, that this language can appear very inflammatory,” Fletcher said. “I just don't think that it's something that's helpful for us to promote when we could say it in a much more calm way.”
Webb’s motion to revise the disclaimer was defeated 3-2. He and Fletcher voted in favor of it, while Hill and Commissioners Darrell Hale and Cheryl Williams voted against.
Commissioners initially decided to add the disclaimer during a discussion Aug. 17 about the backlog of coronavirus test results submitted by several commercial laboratories earlier this month to DSHS.
As the backlogged test results were 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.
"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 last week. "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."
Commissioners also directed staff to add a date for when each item on the dashboard sourced from DSHS was last updated. Collin County also added a daily report by city and ZIP code that can be downloaded from the dashboard with the latest numbers from the state agency.
Those figures will not be added to the county dashboard until DSHS adds them to its dashboard however, as commissioners elected to mirror that dashboard’s figures last week.
County Administrator Bill Bilyeu explained DSHS had not updated its dashboard with new Collin County cases since Aug. 20. He said the state dashboard had been gathering updated figures from the county dashboard, but once the county switched to mirror the state dashboard last week, they were in an “endless loop.”
Commissioners said they intend to communicate to the state that DSHS should populate its own dashboard with new case figures.
Editor's note: This article has been updated with additional comments from Collin County Judge Chris Hill about a work group committed to rectifying the county’s backlog of active cases.