(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) Responding to questions about issues in the state COVID-19 data tracker, Gov. Mike Parson on Thursday said his administration has fixed a public health computer database glitch that led to an inaccurate picture of the pandemic's impact in Missouri.
Parson faced reporters for the first time since the State Department of Health and Senior Services acknowledged inaccurate reporting on Oct. 10, which occurred as a result of a "database extract issue."
According to a DHSS news release, "A malfunction occurred in the automated system, which resulted in an incorrect inflation of the number of reported cases going back over several days, suggesting that 5,020 cases had been added in 24 hours. This number actually reflected an increase in cases over multiple days leading up to Oct. 10, not a one-day increase.”
But Oct. 10 is just one of a series of data issues reported by the agency.
In early September, the agency announced there would be a significant increase in positive cases reported on Sept. 4 due to delayed reporting by one laboratory. According to a news release, DHSS said the new total reflected hundreds of cases over a 4-month time period and DHSS had only found out about the laboratory problem recently. In the same news release, DHSS warned the public would also see 17 deaths added to the state dashboard but it was not necessarily indicative of deaths occurring in the previous 24 hours. Instead explaining it was a result of a weekly quality assurance check ran by DHSS inspecting incoming death certificates.
In the following 48 hours, state health officials released two more press releases to explain why an additional 89 COVID-19 associated deaths were previously unreported in the state data and had occurred in June-August. The agency said DHSS analysts had discovered inconsistencies in the death certificate diagnosis codes compared to the case information contained in the DHSS disease surveillance systems. The department noted in both news releases the case-fatality ratio by month had significantly dropped from May to less than 1% in August. DHSS reported March's case-fatality ratio as 1.2%, April 7.7%, May 7.3%, June 1.9%, July 0.9%, August 0.7%, according to the Sept. 6 news release.
In mid-September, DHSS spokesperson Lisa Cox said the data issue, discovered by the agency in the first week of September, had been fixed. It had not.
On Sept. 15, the state health department's dashboard underreported COVID-19 deaths in northwest counties by 15 compared to the local health department records. Some of the deaths had occurred in August.
In an email exchange, Cox said the data discrepancy was often a result of county health departments not updating the shared system to show the patient has died. Cox also said she would check with the regional epidemiologist to check on the issue.
A week later, Cox said she had been notified by the agency's data analysts the early September data glitch was happening again. In a Sept. 22 email, Cox said they were updating the state's dashboard information after discovering the problem and it was likely the reason more than a dozen deaths in northwest Missouri had not been reflected in the state totals.
The update resulted in 140 deaths added to the state's COVID dashboard, some dating back as early as April.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Governor Parson cited the state's data as part of his administration's calculations to lift the state lockdown, reopen businesses, and send children back to school.
More than 2,450 Missourians have died from COVID-19, and152,571 have been diagnosed with the virus. The pandemic has put 146,000 Missourians out of work and is forcing Missouri schools to see-saw between virtual and physical classrooms. As of October, the latest White House report places Missouri firmly in the red zone for new COVID-19 cases and deaths.
At an event to announce the state was partnering with a Kansas City area hospital to increase access to testing, Parson took a handful of questions from reporters.
The Governor sidestepped a question about whether he is concerned about the decisions he has made in reliance on inaccurate data. Instead, he took issue with whether the data was inaccurate and called the question misleading.
“What happened is there was a glitch in the system and the software that created the problem," Parson said. "There's been no data lost whatsoever. All the data that is there is originated and I don't know all of the details of it. I'm not an IT guy but it was a glitch in the system."
The Governor went on to say the "glitch" had been fixed and that all the data is there.
Sidestepping a follow-up question about his confidence in relying on the data for decisions, the Governor's then echoed a news release from DHSS Wednesday. The agency said the sheer volume of records, 2.2 million files in daily use, have magnified technical glitches, and that tracking data has grown more complex.
"I think you have to realize that there is a tremendous amount of resources that provide the data, all the way from the local level to a county level of 4,000 people to Kansas City," Parson said. "It's very complex and a lot of the data that those streams go but I'm not an IT person. I'm not going to pretend to be one but I know one thing: that information is there and the problem is fixed and we are going to continue moving forward.”
The ShowMeStrong Dashboard reports 9 fewer COVID-19 deaths Thursday compared to reports from northwest county health departments. At least two deaths were reported by the St. Joseph Health Department a couple of weeks ago.