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Editorial: State COVID-19 data on Rowan’s positives best for now

For now, data maintained by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services provides a more accurate picture of COVID-19 than Rowan County government data.

There continues to be hundreds more cases on the state’s dashboard than the county’s. COVID-19 outbreaks in congregate living facilities have shown up on the state’s dashboard and not on the county’s. Readers have noted there have been 29 local residents hospitalized since Jan. 21.

The issues are not a charge against the hard-working staff in the Rowan County Health Department and other employees who have shifted most of their daily work to COVID-19. In fact, if all goes according to plan, there will be five vaccination events hosted by the Rowan County Health Department on five separate days this week. That’s something worth celebrating after weeks of limited supply.

The county simply does not have enough employees dedicated to communicating information and verifying it — something that wasn’t an issue pre-pandemic. Communication and data management has become a primary duty for some and a secondary duty of  employees who are able to juggle new responsibilities. Multiple county employees have spent time after their traditional duties ended working on COVID-19 data or news releases. There’s just a lot of new work to do during the pandemic for folks in county government.

The difference in total positives is most noteworthy because it means many people’s cases are not counted in local data and raises the specter that some of the largest daily increases during the holidays might have been higher.

The congregate living facility discrepancies are also important because they could mean deaths are not being counted in local data or not attributed correctly to nursing homes or assisted living facilities. An example is Best of Care Assisted Living in Enochville.

There are state errors in outbreaks, too. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services says a deadly outbreak exists at the W.G. “Bill” Hefner VA Medical Center when the county says it’s actually at the N.C. State Veterans Home, which is on the VA’s campus but run by another entity.

That the same number of local residents have been hospitalized for weeks is possible. COVID-19 has proven to have long-lasting effects on certain populations. But it’s remarkable the county hasn’t seen numbers change by one or two.

Individually, these items may not be cause for concern. Taken together, after the county acknowledged state statistics are accurate in a story published Sunday (“12 COVID-19 deaths for the week, cases top 13,600”), and because it’s clear no statistics will be perfectly accurate, the public should turn its attention to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ website for data about positive cases.

The county reports deaths to the state and is still the best source for that information as well as hospital beds being used locally. The state does not provide county-specific hospital information, focusing instead of health care regions.

The Rowan County Health Board on Tuesday approved turning over data responsibilities to the state. That’s understandable.

Still, a locally focused website can provide unparalleled, detailed insights about COVID-19 in Rowan County. The Health Department and others involved in the COVID-19 response should find a way to ensure that continues. There may be a role for county commissioners here in allocating additional funding for COVID-19 response.

State data is available at covid19.ncdhhs.gov.

County data can be found at covid-19-rowancountync.hub.arcgis.com.

The VA Health Care System also has a dashboard that contains facility-specific data. That includes cases and vaccinations at the Salisbury VA. It can be found at: accesstocare.va.gov/Healthcare/COVID19NationalSummary

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