State auditor debunks claims of duplicates in Louisiana virus data

Coronavirus
Vials with samples taken for the new coronavirus are counted before they are prepared for RNA testing at the molecular pathology lab at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, Thursday, April 2, 2020. The test is identical to the PCR test being used by the Centers for Disease Control to ease the testing crisis and stop the spread of COVID-19, which has hit the New Orleans area especially hard. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Vials with samples taken for the new coronavirus are counted before they are prepared for RNA testing at the molecular pathology lab at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, Thursday, April 2, 2020. The test is identical to the PCR test being used by the Centers for Disease Control to ease the testing crisis and stop the spread of COVID-19, which has hit the New Orleans area especially hard. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s legislative auditor found two rural parishes’ claims that the state was double-counting their positive coronavirus tests in the official tally of cases was unfounded, upending theories pushed in conservative circles that the data is being skewed to make the outbreak appear worse than it is.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office, a nonpartisan agency that digs into numbers for state lawmakers, said the case statistics reported on the Louisiana Department of Health’s online coronavirus dashboard “are generally correct.”

“We found that none of the duplicates reported by Red River Parish were counted twice on LDH’s dashboard, and all but three duplicates identified by DeSoto Parish were not counted twice on LDH’s dashboard,” says the auditor’s report, released Thursday evening.

Officials with Red River Parish’s homeland security office and with the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office both posted claims on Facebook in July that the state health department was inflating the numbers of residents in their parishes who tested positive for the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus. They claimed 143 duplicates between the two parishes, according to the audit.

Purpera’s office looked through the data submitted by the parishes and the state and determined the Louisiana health department’s review processes for finding and removing duplicates appeared to work and that the Red River and DeSoto parish officials were misunderstanding the information they received.

The health department sends lists of patients who tested positive for the coronavirus to local emergency officials to help first responders know when to prepare for interacting with someone infected.

The reports, aimed to get information to parishes quickly, “was intended to inform first responders of positive cases in their parish, but was never represented or intended to be used as an official record count of all ‘non-duplicative’ positive cases in each parish,” the auditors wrote.

The health department scrubbed the data before it reached the official coronavirus online dashboard, Purpera’s office said. That confirms what Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration had repeatedly said in trying to debunk the claims of coronavirus case inflation.

The Edwards administration recently changed the way it provides the information to parishes — and it’s requiring parish emergency leaders to sign a data-sharing agreement limiting how they can use the information if they want to keep receiving it. The health department has accused some rural parish officials of misusing the lists and violating federal health care privacy laws in sharing the positive test data with others.

Nearly 4,100 Louisiana residents have died from COVID-19, according to the health department. Louisiana has one of the nation’s highest per capita virus infection rates in the last two weeks.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe or fatal illness.

More than 128,000 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed by Louisiana’s health department, though the true number of virus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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