A statewide electronic system used to relay COVID-19 lab results to local public health departments stopped working properly sometime in late July and caused an undercounting of cases, according to a press release from Yuba-Sutter Health.
Public Health Officer Dr. Phuong Luu said in the release that what is more concerning than the undercount is that counties didn’t receive information needed to contact individuals who tested positive for the coronavirus.
According to the press release, in the coming days counties throughout the state expect to see a brief period in which case counts significantly increase, as they begin receiving the backlog of both positive and negative lab results.
It’s unclear when the electronic reporting issues began and how many Yuba-Sutter test results were involved, according to Russ Brown, Yuba County media and community relations coordinator.
He said California Department of Public Health officials are still working to determine when the glitch occurred and how many cases didn’t reach county health departments in the state.
“The timely and accurate reporting of lab results is crucial to the work our public health team does to contact positive cases, advise them to quarantine and work with them to find others who may have been exposed,” Luu said in the press release. “I expect our tracer and investigation team to be hit with a glut of lab results soon, which they will have to carefully work through.”
California officials said that until they get the undercounted lab results to the local health departments, counties will not be added to or taken off the state monitoring list, according to the press release.
“We saw numbers begin to come down over the past couple of weeks, but sadly a portion of that trend may have been the result of unreported lab results,” Luu said.
Many state labs use a system called Electronic Lab Reporting (ELR) to send results to the California Reportable Disease Information Exchange (CalREDIE), which relays the information to counties.
The California Department of Public Health contacted county public health officials late Monday evening to advise them that ELR began having issues communicating with CalREDIE at some point in late July, according to the press release.
Brown said positive test results still reached hospitals caring for patients and the doctors who ordered the tests for patients, however, county public health teams only receive the test results from CalREDIE and many test results never made it to the system.
“Positive patients were likely contacted by their doctors and told they had COVID-19 and they probably even have been told to quarantine,” Brown said. “However, the bi-county case investigation and contact tracing team does the work of ensuring positive cases abide by the requirement to quarantine. They also follow through on finding those who had close contact with the positive cases and direct them to get tested.”
He said as the state identifies the cases that didn’t reach the Yuba-Sutter Public Health team, it’s expected that those cases will be forwarded to the tracer team, then there will be several days ahead of sorting through the information as it is passed along from the state and, in turn, locating those who tested positive for COVID-19 and locating the close contacts of those who tested positive.
“We are working with the state to reset the process and find the best way to get lab results directly to the counties without going through the faulty state reporting system,” Luu said. “I hope our Yuba-Sutter community will bear with us as we figure out how this statewide glitch affected us locally.”
In the meanwhile, the number of reported COVID-19 cases in the Yuba-Sutter area increased by 52 on Tuesday, bringing the total number of positive cases to 1,373. Of those, 23 people recovered and 25 remained in the hospital.
Ten people have died from COVID-19 in the bi-county area.