Rowan County health director talks reasons for state, local data differences

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 30, 2020

By Shavonne Potts

SALISBURY — Lately, the Rowan Public Health Department and the state agency that manages health- and human-related services have not been on the same page when it comes to COVID-19-related data.

Rowan Public Health Director Nina Oliver said the time data is reported represents the main reason for recent discrepancies between Rowan County and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. The state agency reports each day at 11 a.m. while the county compiles and publishes its data every evening. Oliver said both sources are correct, but added that Rowan County’s data hub should be the preferred choice for the most current and accurate statistical information.

According to Wednesday’s state data, Rowan County has 366 positive COVID-19 cases and 19 deaths. The Rowan County Health Department on Wednesday released local numbers with 365 positive cases and 22 deaths.

The county reports its data later in the day because staff connect with each reported positive case to conduct an investigation. The results of the investigation provide many of the elements the county reports on its data hub. The county then manually reviews individualized data for each case when calculating county totals.

The state’s data is pulled from a live database called the NC Electronic Disease Surveillance System (NC EDSS) database. The data is then put through a cleaning process before being output in the dashboard format. Oliver said because the NC EDSS is a live database it changes over the course of a given day.

For example, cases are entered manually, merged and additional data is fed in, Oliver said.

Also, when the state feeds case count information to NC EDSS, errors can occur and information can be assigned to the wrong county. The Rowan County Health Department has its own investigation team that looks into such discrepancies.

Oliver said public health nurses review cases and confirm they are Rowan County residents. If they are not, nurses have to “reassign” cases to the correct county. These incorrect cases are counted towards Rowan County numbers until they are reassigned, which can take time to do.

In some instances, if the team is unable to verify the county where the case belongs, it is sent back to the state.

While the case is being verified, the case can continue to show as a Rowan County case.

“Rowan County strives to be responsive to all data needs. We also strive to provide to most accurate data as possible. While data provided by the state is accurate, numbers/data/cases may fluctuate,” Oliver said.