"I'm Looking For The Truth!" - Experts Slam States For 'Misrepresenting' COVID-19 Data As Outbreak Recedes

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by Tyler Durden
Tuesday, May 26, 2020 - 10:25 PM

For better or worse, every state in the US is pushing ahead with plans to reopen their economies. On Tuesday afternoon, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that retailers across the state would be allowed to reopen immediately, along with barbershops and salons in some counties. Later this week, Texas and a handful of other states will enter "phase 2" of their reopening plans.

But while the spike in new cases and deaths has decidedly not materialized - the number of new cases confirmed across the US tumbled to its lowest level in 2 months on Tuesday - a handful of states have still be called out for meddling or distorting the data before it was presented to the public to help justify plans to reopen before satisfying the federal guidelines released by the Trump Administration back in April.

Former Obama-era CDC Director Tom Frieden, a near-constant voice on cable news like MSNBC and CNN, has regularly bashed states like Georgia for allegedly putting President Trump's reelection prospects before people's lives. But Frieden - one of many officials who proclaimed that the White House was deliberately trying to suppress projections calling for 3k deaths per day by June 1 - has moved on to highlighting examples of disingenuous data reporting by the states.

Of course, it has become clear in the weeks since the NYT published those projections that they were way, way off-base, just like the White House explained when it explained why it wasn't relying on them.

But Frieden just can't help himself, apparently, as NBC News reports.

"Accurate, complete and timely information is the best way to understand, respond to and limit the impact of the virus on both health and the economy," Dr. Tom Frieden, who ran the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under former President Barack Obama, told NBC News.

"This helps to set realistic expectations on how the pandemic will affect people's lives and to inform required changes in behavior to prevent the spread of the virus," he added.

In Georgia, officials have apologized for string of suspicious "errors" that implied the number of new cases were falling earlier and more quickly than the official data bore out (over the past week, the number of new cases has fallen sharply even as access to testing has been expanded).

Georgia officials have apologized and corrected what was described as a "processing error" that wrongly showed a downward trend in the number of new daily infections in the state, making it appear as if new infections had dropped every day for two weeks. The error was at least the third in three weeks, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Georgia was among the first states to launch its reopening. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, said the state on Tuesday recorded its lowest number of hospitalized patients since it began tracking such data in early April.

Florida reported just 7 deaths on Tuesday, but its Republican Gov Ron DeSantis, who is universally loathed by liberals, and state public health officials were called out by a would-be whistleblower who says she was pressured to remove some data from a public website.

In the neighboring state of Florida, which has also moved expeditiously in reopening swathes of its economy, several data-related controversies also have brewed.

According to internal emails obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, state officials directed a top Florida Department of Health data manager earlier this month to remove data from public view that showed Florida residents had reported coronavirus-associated symptoms before cases were officially announced. The emails showed that the data manager, Rebekah Jones, had complied with the order but said it was the "wrong call."

Jones was taken off her role maintaining the state's coronavirus dashboard one day after that directive. She told a local CBS affiliate that she refused to "manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen" Florida. Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said Jones was under "active criminal charges" for cyber stalking and cyber sexual harassment.

Meanwhile, Florida officials last month stopped releasing the list of coronavirus deaths being compiled by the state's medical examiners, which had at times shown a higher death toll than the total being published by the state. State officials said that list needed to be reviewed as a result of the discrepancy.

A spokesman for the state Health Department said the medical examiners had a different method for reporting deaths and that it was untrue "that deaths have been hidden."

"The government has one mission; academics and scholars have a very different mission," Dr. Dean Hart, an expert on viral transmission and former Columbia University professor who has run for the New York State Assembly as a Democrat, told NBC News.

"As a scientist, I'm looking for the truth, the heck with who it hurts politically," he added.

Arizona, another red state, was accused of ignoring dire projections from a team at the University of Arizona. It's unclear if they were ever used, of if they were even all that reliable. But the local and national press jumped on the story nonetheless.

Amid reopening in Arizona, the state Department of Health Services cut off a team of Arizona State and University of Arizona experts who provided pandemic modeling specific to the state, saying it was no longer needed as the state preferred to use a federal model. After a backlash, the Health Department reinstated the team, though it's unclear whether state officials are using the local universities' work in their decision-making.

Since that dust up, Arizona State released new data showing infections and hospitalizations in the state could soar this summer.

But by far the biggest complained alleged by NBC News applied to both blue and red states. States have unsurprisingly done an abysmal job sharing data on deaths and cases in nursing homes, where roughly half of the patients who died of the virus lived.

The top issue nationally related to the publication of specific coronavirus data involving nursing home cases and deaths, where state and local officials have faced intense scrutiny over the collection and release of such information. The virus has hit nursing homes exceptionally hard — a result of both their residents' vulnerability and policies states and localities have put into place.

In one such example, Arizona officials argued this month they should not reveal the names of facilities with outbreaks because it could give those nursing homes a stigma and could lead to discrimination against them. The argument was made in response to a lawsuit from Arizona news outlets demanding the state provide information on COVID-19 cases in nursing homes and other data.

In Pennsylvania, state officials released such data last week after weeks of delay and in the face of significant pressure.

The federal government, on the other hand, plans to publish such information by the end of May.

Hart said more information on nursing homes could paint a clearer picture of what happened specifically in New York with the spread of COVID-19. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has come under fire for his administration's March order that nursing homes must accept coronavirus patients. That order was reversed earlier this month.

Which is the greater sin: manipulating data on a chart to exaggerate a decline in coronavirus cases? Or slow-rolling data on deaths and infections involving the most at-risk patients? We suspect that, in the long run, Gov. Cuomo's "policy" forcing nursing homes to take in COVID-19-positive residents even after they had tested positive at a local hospital will be remembered as a much more reckless lapse than squabbling between some of bureaucrats in Florida's Department of Health.