A couple of weeks ago in this space (“COVID data report results disappoint,” June 11), we noted discrepancies in the official reporting of COVID-19 numbers — one of several editorials about difficulties in obtaining and releasing data on the coronavirus.
At the time, a nursing home in Bedford County was reported to have had 90 COVID-related deaths. That’s a huge number — so huge, in fact, that it would have wiped out virtually the entire population of residents. Officials at the facility said that, in fact, there had been no COVID cases, much less any deaths.
That claimed discrepancy involved federal numbers being collected and reported by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Then it appeared we had a similar apparent incongruity closer to home, this time involving state reporting of numbers rather than federal.
The Virginia Department of Health’s database cites an outbreak at Westminster-Canterbury of the Blue Ridge, The Daily Progress reported on June 22, with an unknown number of deaths.
But WCBR had released a statement on June 20 disputing the department’s data (included in the story). A Westminster-Canterbury spokeswoman said that results received currently for all staff and residents who underwent a particular test for COVID-19 had been found to be negative — although some tests had yet to be processed and results were pending.
Then on June 24, the facility acknowledged that it previously had a COVID case (a resident) that had been reported to the state on April 2.
But WCBR continued to dispute the state’s designation of an “outbreak.”
It reported that later in April, two staff members had tested positive — but contact tracing proved that their cases were not connected, and so they cannot be considered as part of an “outbreak.”
Earlier this month, two different staff members tested positive — but, again, their cases were not connected.
An outbreak is often considered to have occurred when two or more infections are linked. The mere coincidence of working together is not enough to justify that label, unless one of the workers infected the other.
How the discrepancy occurred between the state’s designation and the WCBR’s description of events is not yet fully explained.
But we’ve seen in other cases that such divergences could be caused by everything from inadequate reporting methods to data-entry time lags in making the information up to date.
Even the definition of “outbreak” seems to have been somewhat fluid over time; indeed, the World Health Organization says that the number of cases needed to cross that threshold varies with the type of “disease-causing agent” and how virulent it is.
As we’ve said before, COVID-19 has crashed upon us so fiercely and unexpectedly that health and government agencies have had to devise responses with unprecedented speed — leading to some understandable missteps.
But as we’ve also said before, accurate information is extremely important. The people of Virginia need to know how prevalent COVID is at nursing facilities; conversely, facilities that are COVID-free deserve to be acknowledges as such.