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Santa Clara County Health Officials: COVID-19 Data Problem Has Them 'Feeling Blind'

SANTA CLARA COUNTY (CBS SF) — Statewide technical issues resulting in incomplete COVID-19 testing data have left Santa Clara County "back to feeling blind," County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said in a news conference Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said California recently stopped receiving a full count of tests conducted, or positive results, through electronic lab reports due to an unresolved issue he did not describe. The state's data page now carries a disclaimer saying the numbers "represent an underreporting of actual positive cases" per day.

Cody said the lack of data makes her feel like the county has regressed to what it was in February and March, when there wasn't enough testing and data to indicate the impacts of COVID-19.

The county's current cumulative case count is over 11,000, according to the county dashboard, but cases have been significantly underreported since mid-July because of the glitch Ghaly mentioned.

"We don't know how the epidemic is trending. We don't know where it's heading, how fast it's growing," Cody said.

Though the case count shows a trend downward, Cody expects that case count to increase up after the complete data is processed.

That's not reassuring to people who's livelihoods depends on accurate data and case numbers going down.  Lieu Shultz was optimistic that the lower numbers would mean she could re-open her San Jose salon and day spa.  But now she's skeptical.

"Some days they say the numbers are really high, some days they say it's low, so I don't know.  I really don't trust anything at all," Shultz said.

Dr. Cody said the county is now looking more closely at hospitalization rates, which are more reliable and indicate a decline in the last few weeks. Since July 13, the county has had an average daily death of 1-2 people, according to the county dashboard.

"While we again can't interpret what our last two weeks of data mean as far as the cases, the last week or two of hospitalization data is somewhat reassuring that things are leveling off," Cody said. "But it is not enough to really know."

If data indicates a substantial spike after it is completely processed, Cody said the county may impose stricter health orders, similar to ones from March.

The state is still diagnosing the technical problem, but Cody said it appears that the electronic lab results were not properly routed into the state's system. The health officer also added that Santa Clara County has offered to assist the state to fix the technical issues.

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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