NCDHHS says 200,000 reported tests originated out-of-state, creating data discrepancy

Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, talks during a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh, N.C., Wednesday, August 5, 2020. Photo via NC Dept. of Public Safety

RALEIGH – The N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services announced on Wednesday corrections to the state’s daily and cumulative completed COVID-19 test counts after a data discrepancy between electronic and manual reporting of testing data. The data in question was submitted by LabCorp, which is based in Burlington. The LabCorp data error, according to NCDHHS, resulted in a higher count of total COVID-19 tests performed in the state.

“Although this reporting error impacts our count of total tests completed, it does not alter our key metrics or change our understanding of COVID-19 transmission in North Carolina, which shows stabilization over the last few weeks,” said NCDHHS secretary Mandy Cohen.

According to NCDHHS the reporting error doesn’t affect the key COVID-19 NC Dashboard trends North Carolina uses to monitor this pandemic, including the number of new positive cases and percent of tests that are positive.

The error reduces NCDHHS’s official count of cumulative tests performed from 2,044,727 to 1,823,283, nearly 10% of the total tests the state said it had been able to perform. NCDHHS says it also did not impact the case count total or the percent positive calculation. The data is now being updated to reflect the accurate number of tests performed in the state.

“Last week, NCDHHS informed us they had identified an inconsistency across LabCorp data submissions, which are provided to the state through both an electronic reporting system that is established through state regulations and a separate manual process as requested by NCDHHS,” said Brian Caveney, Chief Medical Officer and President of LabCorp Diagnostics. “We determined that from late April until last week, Pixel by LabCorp at-home test collection kits that originated out-of-state but were processed in North Carolina were inadvertently included in the manual data submission to the state. We quickly corrected the issue and provided the updated manual reports to NCDHHS. LabCorp’s daily electronically reported data was accurate and unaffected by the error, and this issue does not affect other states or any results reported to patients or their providers.”

“NCDHHS is committed to data transparency and data accuracy as part of our COVID-19 response. The department is continually improving our data systems and engaging in regular quality control measures and is transparent when errors are detected,” Secretary Cohen said. “We will continue to work closely with our many partners who submit data to us to help track this pandemic, including hospitals, laboratories, local health departments and many others.” 

In background material provided by the agency, NCDHHS says patient-level testing data (positives and negatives) is submitted either electronically through the North Carolina Electronic Disease Surveillance System (NC EDSS) or manually. Approximately 80% of total patient-level tests are submitted electronically through NC EDSS. The other 20% that are manually submitted must then be hand-entered into NC EDSS.

In a press call on Thursday morning, Cohen confirmed to North State Journal that the electronically-reported data is what health officials use to make decisions on health measures.

The background material also appears to confirm that multiple tests are counted for a single patient, whether the test is positive or negative for COVID-19. The total number of cases represent individual cases. NCDHHS also said the error did not impact reporting of results to patients or doctors.