While the U.S. has reported more cases and deaths than any other country, the method for counting COVID-19 deaths varies by state. In testimony before the Senate earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said the actual number of people who’ve died as a result of the pandemic is “almost certainly” higher than what’s been counted.
Such data has been the basis for how quickly states are beginning to open up and return to a sense of normalcy. But government officials in a number of states are facing questions about how open and honest they’re being about how the virus is impacting their state.
“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.
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.
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.