Two weeks after media reports exposed discrepancies among data on Iowa’s coronavirus website, and the state announced it had fixed the glitch that was causing them, testing numbers on the website are still being changed, in some cases months after the fact.
The data made available to the public at coronavirus.iowa.gov has been touted by Gov. Kim Reynolds as evidence of government and public health leaders’ commitment to transparency. But on Aug. 17, the Times Citizen, Bleeding Heartland blog and the Associated Press reported that for months the state’s disease tracking software had been erroneously backdating positive and negative test results for Iowans who had been tested multiple times. The state acknowledged the issue and on Aug. 19, the website numbers were revised.
But still, numbers on the website are being altered months later. A Times Citizen analysis of the testing data on the website shows that over the last weekend – between Friday, Aug. 28 and Sunday, Aug. 30 – Hardin County testing numbers as far back as May were being altered. Over the course of those two days, the state removed 20 tests on dates between May 18 and Aug. 3, and added a new positive cases for Hardin County on Aug. 6, more than three weeks ago.
At a press conference last week, Reynolds announced that the results of antigen tests – a rapid diagnostic coronavirus test – would now be included in the data published on the website. Previously, the test results were excluded, but Reynolds said new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as an increase in the use of the test led to the change.
“As testing becomes more widespread and common, antigen testing will be a growing portion of the overall testing in Iowa, so this change will enable us to capture this data that we’re reporting to Iowans,” Reynolds said on Aug. 27.
Dr. Caitlin Pedati, the state’s medical director, reported at the same press conference that the state had received approximately 10,000 antigen tests results, 8,000 of which had been received in the previous 10 to 12 days.
The state’s website was updated overnight between Aug. 27 and 28, adding antigen testing numbers and results, and breaking them down separately from PCR tests, which take longer and have been more widely used. According to the website, 42 Hardin County residents - just 1.4 percent of the total Hardin County tests - have been antigen tests. Of those, four have been positive. Currently, neither Hansen Family Hospital in Iowa Falls, nor McFarland Clinic – which has offices in Iowa Falls and Eldora – is using antigen testing.
Previously, the state was reporting antigen tests in the total number of tests for the state and individual counties, but the results were classified as “inconclusive” and were not included in positive or negative results.
As of Monday morning, the state was reporting that there had been a total of 3,020 Hardin County residents tested for COVID-19. Of those, 2,783 have been negative and 230 have been positive. That leaves seven cases unaccounted for. Amy McCoy, a spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Public Health, said Friday that those represent inconclusive results that “may reflect a low level of virus in the sample or a false positive.” In those instances, patients are instructed to get a new sample taken and if the test is inconclusive again, “out of an abundance of caution, the patient should isolate the same as a positive result. If symptoms change or worsen in that time, they should be in touch with their health care provider.”
Hardin County's 14-day positivity rate on Monday morning was 9.5 percent, up from 8.3 percent one week earlier (Aug. 24).