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The shift to a new data tracking system from the state health department has caused lags and discrepancies in reporting deaths from COVID-19.
According to the state health department’s dashboard, as of Friday Morning, Greene County had reported just 25 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began here in March.
In reality, the death toll was 65.
That trend has extended to other jurisdictions as well. On Monday, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services was under-reporting deaths statewide by about 11 percent, according to a News-Leader analysis.
But DHSS spokeswoman Lisa Cox assured people that the discrepancies aren’t part of a conspiracy to under-count deaths.
A screenshot of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Service’s dashboard shows the stat’s lagging reporting system for deaths. (Photo: Kull, Katherine)
She said that difference could be chalked up to two things: a new software system and potential issues with reporting.
For years, Missouri DHSS used an in-house application called WebSurv which allowed local health departments to input data about nearly 100 communicable diseases tracked by the state, Cox said.
But that system, created in-house in 1998 and expanded starting in 2003, couldn’t hold up to the needs of COVID-19 tracking.
“In the current pandemic circumstances, the outdated technology has met with severe limits on data entry and required DHSS to redirect numerous staff (including efforts by the National Guard and others) in very labor-intensive efforts just to remain caught up on disease reporting,” Cox wrote in an email.
The department decided to upgrade to new software, which has caused lags in reporting and discrepancies in updates to both databases.
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“It’s a bit of a learning curve,” she said in an interview. “So the counties, they’ve got their own count, but unless all that information is jibing with our system, it’s not showing up in our dashboard.”
There have also been some lags in other data reporting that have been attributed to the software change.
At Monday’s City Council meeting, health department director Clay Goddard said the department would be adding roughly 200 cases to its dashboard after the state system had backdated several dozen cases.
“We’ve adjusted the way that we’re pulling data and have fixed the error going forward,” he said.
Cox said DHSS hopes to migrate a lot of data from the old to new systems over the weekend and plans on doing more training with local health departments on how to use it.
Katie Kull covers local government for the News-Leader. Got a story to tell? Give her a call at 417-408-1025 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also support local journalism at News-Leader.com/subscribe.
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