DALLAS — A computer upgrade at the Texas Department of State Health Services uncovered thousands of COVID-19 cases that had previously been unreported to local counties.
Some of the cases had been diagnosed as far back as March.
According to DSHS, the patients had received their positive test results but the counties where those patients live had not been notified.
The state notified Dallas County of a total of 5,361 cases on Sunday. The county said 4,298 of those patients tested positive in July. The rest came from March, April, May and June.
On Monday, the state notified Dallas County of 1,850 cases. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said a “high number” of those cases had been diagnosed in June.
Friday, Dallas County reported a total of 57,313 cases.
By Monday that number had grown to 65,278.
“Nobody’s more frustrated with the state’s problems than I am,” said Jenkins. "But we do believe the long-term trend, since we’ve had masking, is down.”
Collin County and Tarrant County also reported spikes in old cases since Friday.
“I don’t like them not having their data right. We’ve got to do a better job of it,” said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price of the state's tracking system. “But our numbers are staying steady and declining some, too – the numbers that really tell us who’s out there, how sick they are, and what we need to worry about.”
Last week, DSHS announced a team of data investigators had been brought in to determine why the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests in Texas had spiked to record levels in the first two weeks of August, reaching a concerning 24.5 percent.
A DSHS spokesperson said a computer upgrade performed August 1 uncovered a backlog of positive results that had not been uploaded to the state’s lab reporting system. The state blamed coding errors from one hospital lab and one commercial lab.
As that backlog is being uploaded, the positivity rate is dropping, but case numbers being reported to counties are rising.
Dr. Kelvin Baggett, the COVID-19 czar for the city of Dallas, called Sunday’s 5,315 cases an “alarming” surprise.
“It does concern me that in the month of July maybe decisions were made where data was inaccurate or at least incomplete,” he said.
Price and Baggett both acknowledged the spikes from old cases could give skeptics more reason to doubt data and erode an already weak trust in numbers.
“When instances like this occur, it does undermine some of that,” Baggett said.
“What I can say is there’s no attempt on our part to withhold information. We are releasing it. We’re using it to guide our decisions,” he said.
Baggett said he asked whether current data is accurate, and he said he was told August numbers are.
“Therefore, the decisions we’re making off those numbers are well-informed,” he said.
Jenkins said it's critical for North Texans to stay vigilant because he believes people abiding by mask and social distancing guidelines are having an impact.
“We can’t let our guard down right now,” he said. “It’s working here. You’ve got to keep doing it.”