State health officials defend 2-day delay of new COVID-19 case totals

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Updated: Nov. 18, 2020 at 10:45 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii’s reported coronavirus case count numbers will continue to be delayed by two days due to a lack of resources, state health officials said Tuesday.

That means the 53 new cases reported Tuesday are actually Sunday’s totals.

The delay is causing concern among public health experts.

"I don’t understand it. I have no idea why they do that, I don’t like it,” said Dr. DeWolfe Miller, the Director of Public Health and the Prevention of Infectious Diseases at the University of Hawaii.

The delay is intentional and started this week.

Part of the problem, according to lawmakers, is that the state Health Department gives the numbers to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

The figures are then posted to the Hawaii COVID-19 dashboard.

State Rep. Sylvia Luke says the doubling up in terms of data is part of the problem. "In order to reduce confusion, I think that one department needs to be in charge of the numbers,” Luke said.

Luke confirms to Hawaii News Now what sources with knowledge of the reporting procedures have previously noted: That HIEMA had previously set a time to serve as a daily deadline for the Health Department to turn over the case counts and it was a deadline DOH could not guarantee.

“Collecting data from the various clinics, and the hospitals, we do need to give them some flexibility to gather all the information,” Luke said.

Brooks Baehr, a spokesman for Health Department, said a higher number of reported cases have made it difficult to keep up with the numbers.

“As the case count has grown, data collection, assimilation and verification has become more challenging," said Baehr.

Baehr said the state of Arizona and the city of San Francisco are examples of municipalities that also do not produce updated results daily.

However, Hawaii News Now found several that did, including Clark County, Nevada.

Clark County reports numbers that are current up to the morning of the reporting, which is what the Health Department did until several weeks ago.

Dallas County, Texas ― which has a similar population total to Hawaii of about 1.4 million people ― reports numbers up to noon every day. The county’s daily press release not only includes the total number of new cases, but also details recent deaths of COVID-19 patients.

Miller says providing as much information as possible, as soon as possible, can help the community understand the spread of the virus.

“Show them how they can prevent infection and reduce transmission,” Miller said.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green agreed, saying that while trends are important so are the daily case totals. He said he would take up the issue with the state Health Department director.

Luke added the issue warrants a conversation between lawmakers and state administrators.

She also says the case counts help guide the county mayors and impacts important decisions, like Oahu’s tier system, where delays could affect whether Honolulu’s mayor wants to advance to Tier 3 or remain in Tier 2 for the upcoming Thanksgiving Day holiday.

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