COVID-19 data glitch resulted in 300,000 unprocessed records, California health secretary says

SAN FRANCISCO -- A glitch has led to a backlog of between 250,000 and 300,000 unprocessed health records in California, many of them COVID-19 test results, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly revealed Friday.

Not all of the records are coronavirus test samples, but most of them are, Ghaly said. The group of records may also include some duplicates, which the state is currently working to sort through and eliminate.

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Working through the backlog is expected to take 24 to 48 hours, he said.

State officials believe the number of new COVID-19 cases in California has been underreported since July 25, when a server outage created a delay in lab records coming into the state's reporting system. At the same time, the state hadn't realized they weren't receiving data from one of the largest commercial labs for five days. Those problems combined have created the extensive backlog

Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered a full investigation of the issue, Ghaly said.

"We will hold people accountable," he added.

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Local health officers have expressed frustration with the data glitch, saying it's hard to address the COVID-19 crisis without knowing its true impact at the moment.

"We just don't know. We don't know if our cases are rising, plateauing or decreasing," said Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody. "It's not just inconvenient, but this lack of data doesn't allow us to know where the epidemic is heading, how fast it's growing or not."

Another source of frustration for many counties has been how to get off the state's COVID-19 watch list, which needs to happen before districts are allowed to reopen schools. Ghaly revealed Friday that no counties have been taken off - or added on - since last Friday. That's because the state froze the watch list in order to make sure its data was accurate.

WATCH LIST: Counties where COVID-19 is getting worse
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