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As Coronavirus Cases Reach New Highs In Missouri, State Eliminates Daily Number Updates

Julie Denesha
A health care worker handles COVID-19 testing supplies.

Missouri's health department will no longer provide regular COVID-19 case and death updates via social media.

Although recent data shows COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Missouri are at or near all-time highs, the state health department this week introduced new reporting strategies that will provide less current information about the virus to the public.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services announced that it would stop providing daily COVID-19 updates on social media and launched a website that only provides three-day-old COVID-19 case, death and testing data.

The health department had been providing daily updates of COVID-19 case counts and deaths from the previous 24 hours on Facebook and Twitter. But on Monday it posted a notice on Facebook about changes to its reporting methods.

“At this time, DHSS will be discontinuing the posting of data on social media each day, but all of this information and more can always be found on the new dashboard,” the post read.

However, the numbers of case, death and test numbers on the new dashboard are three days old, leaving the public without the current daily updates that had been provided by the health department for months.

The new dashboard also shows seven-day averages for hospitalizations, rather than daily counts.

Department of Health and Senior Services spokeswoman Lisa Cox wrote in an email that the social media updates were ending in an effort to better utilize the staff's time.

She explained the reporting delays would improve accuracy.

"Time-based data such as 7-day averages, however, are subject to a 3-day delay to ensure that the data are accurate and complete," Cox wrote.

The changes come as Missouri's seven-day average of new cases stands at a near-record 1,550 per day, according to the New York Times.

The last reported daily count of COVID-19 hospitalizations on the old dashboard — 1,125 on Sept. 24 — was the highest the state has reported during the pandemic.

The data on the new dashboard is also inconsistent with data that had been posted on the previous dashboard, which had been available until Monday afternoon.

For example, the older dashboard listed 11,147 cases in Kansas City while the new dashboard listed 4,988 as of Tuesday afternoon. Kansas City's dashboard listed 11,387 on Tuesday.

Case totals for Jackson County, meanwhile, were listed as 7,512 on the old dashboard and 12,429 on the new one. The Jackson County Health Department listed 7,411 cases on Tuesday.

"Transitioning to this new system over the weekend allowed our teams to do some quality assurance and identify and correct issues with the case count totals, including some instances of cases being counted more than once or cases being marked as confirmed without the correct verification documentation present," Cox said, explaining the discrepancies.

The Missouri Hospital Association, which collects hospital data, continues to report daily hospitalization numbers, and spokesman Dave Dillon wrote on Wednesday that the association has requested that the health department link to this data on its website.

Dillon added that the hospitalization numbers had grown worrisome.

"We are at unprecedented levels of hospitalization, and in several regions we’re nearing capacity for existing COVID-dedicated space," Dillon wrote in an email.

The state health department has reported numerous data delays and reporting errors throughout the pandemic that have required corrections, back-reporting of case and death data, and changes in reporting platforms.

As a health care reporter, I aim to empower my audience to take steps to improve health care and make informed decisions as consumers and voters. I tell human stories augmented with research and data to explain how our health care system works and sometimes fails us. Email me at alexs@kcur.org.
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