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Lab performing COVID-19 tests forgot to give its data to the state

Data delay means the state’s COVID-19 dashboard could soon see a jump in cases
CDC image of the COVID-19 virus.
CDC image of the COVID-19 virus.(KTUU)
Published: Nov. 26, 2020 at 6:57 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A new, commercial laboratory in Anchorage processing COVID-19 tests got off to a good start getting test results back to patients and providers, according to Dr. Coleman Cutchins with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. But for weeks, the lab wasn’t reporting those results back to the state as required, Coleman said.

Coleman made the remarks during a Zoom video conference Wednesday, to give the heads up that once some 13,000 test results are input into the state’s system, the state’s COVID-19 data dashboard could see a big jump in numbers. What may appear like another big surge, is really the data correction from four weeks of missing information from Beech Tree Labs in Anchorage, Cutchins said during a follow-up call.

All of the delayed results are for tests performed in Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Cutchins said. Within the tests, about 1,600 contain positive results. Of those, most, nearly 70%, are located in the Mat-Su Borough, Cutchins said, reviewing new numbers as they came in by email during the call.

Cutchins said the lab reported the oversight occurred through a contractor hired to do the data reports for Beech Tree, and the reporting requirements are now understood and being followed.

Once the data is input into the dashboard, Cutchins said he expects it will more accurately reflect the COVID-19 surge curve the state has been experiencing. A slight leveling off of the curve in November is likely due to the missing data, he said.

On Friday, DHSS reported over 700 new COVID-19 cases, but health care officials say the larger trend of two-week averages actually gives the department a better idea of how many COVID-19 cases the state is actually reporting.

Most of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough cases reported Friday were a result of the backlog in cases from Beech Tree Labs’ Wasilla locations, health care officials said in a press conference Friday.

Within the last few weeks, the department has added an onset date function to give people viewing the COVID-19 dashboard a better idea of when cases are reported. Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said the most recent cases reported are always going to be a little lower than the actual positive cases on that day because of reporting delays.

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