Iowa's coronavirus website, which state officials lauded last month for providing “timely, relevant data that informs the state’s public health response and updates Iowans about the situation,” is belatedly reporting COVID-19 outbreaks in long term care centers and altering weeks- and months-old positive test numbers, Times Citizen reporting has found.
Since May, the Iowa Department of Public Health has said it updates coronavirus.iowa.gov in real time. There are exceptions that delay those reports. In December, the state announced that it was changing the methodology used to classify COVID-19 deaths, and that the new process would slow the reporting process. But that isn’t the only data that’s being updated weeks after the fact. Reports of COVID-19 outbreaks at three Hardin County long term care facilities were slow to appear on the state’s disease reporting website, and in one case a month-old outbreak that had already ended appeared on the website for less than 24 hours before it was removed.
On the evening of Jan. 4, the state’s coronavirus website showed a never-before-reported COVID-19 outbreak at Scenic Manor in Hardin County. According to the listing, Scenic Manor – a long term care facility on the Scenic Living Communities campus in Iowa Falls – had reported eight positive cases and six recoveries. The website reported that one new case had been identified in the previous 14 days. But on Tuesday morning, less than 12 hours later, the outbreak had been removed from the state’s website.
Lisa Hoodjer, executive director of Scenic Living Communities, spoke with the Times Citizen on Jan. 5. She said three residents at the facility had tested positive for COVID-19, but the last positive test was on Dec. 7, four weeks before the outbreak showed up on the state’s website. The state removes long term care facilities from outbreak status after they’ve gone two consecutive incubation periods for the virus – 28 days – without a new positive case.
Another reported outbreak at a Hardin County long term care facility was also removed between Jan. 4 and 5. The COVID-19 outbreak at Eldora Specialty Care showed up on the state’s website on Dec. 8. At the time, Susan Eichmeier, who is administrator of the facility, told the Times Citizen the state’s reporting of long term care outbreaks was “behind the times.” She confirmed the outbreak at Eldora Specialty Care, and said there was another active outbreak at the other long term care facility in Eldora – Valley View Specialty Care – of which she is also administrator. Eichmeier said eight residents at Eldora Specialty Care and seven residents at Valley View Specialty Care had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Dec. 9.
Before the outbreak was removed from the coronavirus website this week, the state was reporting that there had been 15 positive cases at Eldora Specialty Care, but Valley View Specialty Care’s outbreak was never listed on the state website. Eichmeier said this week that she’s not permitted to speak with the media about COVID-19 at the facility, and she directed questions to Care Initiatives, the West Des Moines-based non-profit organization that owns both facilities. Multiple messages left for a spokesperson at Care Initiatives were not returned this week.
Iowa Department of Public Health spokesperson Sarah Ekstrand has not replied to questions from the Times Citizen about the state’s delay in reporting COVID-19 outbreaks at long term care facilities in Hardin County.
State is altering month-old data
In recent weeks, the Times Citizen's tracking of COVID-19 data reports on the state's coronavirus website has revealed changes to daily case counts weeks and months in the past.
According to data published on the state's coronavirus website, between Jan. 4 and 5, the Iowa Department of Public Health added one case each to Nov. 7, 8 and 18 and it added four positive cases to Nov. 9. The state website also removed one positive case from Aug. 4.
In late December the website showed new cases being added to dates between Nov. 4-23.
On Dec. 21, the Times Citizen reached out to the Iowa Department of Public Health with questions about the addition of new cases six weeks in the past. The state did not respond to those questions. The same questions were posed to Eskstrand at IDPH this week. They also have not been answered.
Similar weeks- and months-old case count changes were uncovered last summer. Times Citizen tracking of state coronavirus data showed that positive cases of the disease were being backdated by weeks and months. The state acknowledged the problem in August and corrected it.
As of Friday morning, Jan. 8, the state was reporting that a total of 1,500 Hardin County residents have tested positive for COVID-19 since March 2020. Of those, 1,318 people are classified as having recovered and 29 Hardin County residents have died of the disease, leaving 153 people currently infected. As of Thursday, Jan. 7, five Hardin County residents were hospitalized for treatment of COVID-19. The state's website does not list active COVID-19 outbreaks at any Hardin County long term care facilities.