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California Coronavirus System Failure Led To Inaccurate Case Numbers, Positivity Rates

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California health Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly delivered an update on coronavirus in California, focused on the problems with COVID-19 data reporting in the state.

You can read highlights below or watch the full video above.


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On July 25, a server outage caused a delay in lab records coming into the state's reporting system. The state made changes that allowed the records to enter the system more quickly, Ghaly said. Those changes were supposed to be temporary, but they weren't later disabled, which caused further delays in lab reporting data and creating an extensive backlog.

Data was also not being received from one of the largest commercial testing labs for five days between July 31 and Aug. 4. That was due to a certificate the state hadn't renewed, Ghaly said, which meant the data wasn't allowed to be sent to the state.

The state's CalREDIE (California Reportable Disease Information Exchange) system has been challenged by the volume of data, Ghaly said, and short delays aren't uncommon.

"I became aware of the magnitude of the data backlog in the late afternoon on Monday, and alerted the governor and his senior staff shortly thereafter," Ghaly said.


"Our data system failed, and that failure led to inaccurate case numbers and case positivity rates," Ghaly said.

The system failure also kept counties from having some of the data they needed to monitor and respond to the virus in their communities, Ghaly said.

The upside? No changes to COVID-19 response policies were based on the incomplete data, according to Ghaly.

The trends the state discussed earlier this week are believed to remain the same: cases and hospitalizations continue to show slight decreases, he said.


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Ghaly said that the state is accelerating the development of a new lab reporting system for COVID-19, to create a long-term solution. The short-term fixes include reversing the previous July temporary technical changes and renewing the certificate that expired.

"Simply put, the CalREDIE system was not built for this volume of data," Ghaly said.

The state is also putting in place new protocols and notifications for when system changes are made, upgrading servers to allow for extra capacity, and adding a system to validate the data and reports.

Oversight and monitoring have been strengthened, Ghaly said.

The governor has also directed a full investigation — Ghaly said that those who made errors will be held accountable.


Over the past 24 hours, the data entering the system has been normalized. In the next 24-48 hours, the backlog is expected to be resolved — it's between 250,000 and 300,000 records, Ghaly said. This should give the state a better sense of how many tests were delayed. Results are being reported to counties.

Those records include testing not just for COVID-19 but for other diseases...and also may include some duplicate records.

"We apologize. You deserve better, the governor demands better of us, and we are committed to doing better," Ghaly said.

Once the state works through its backlog, counties have to verify the positive results and add demographic information, so it may take some additional time for those positive tests to be reported on the state's dashboard.

The county monitoring list was frozen last Friday due to the transition in hospital data to a federal system, so counties on the list haven't been affected by the changes in data. After the backlog is processed, that list will be unfrozen and so counties can pick up where they left off, Ghaly said.

More information on the status of the backlog and how things have been affected, will be released early next week, Ghaly said.

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