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'Technical issue' leads to underreporting of negative coronavirus tests in Martin County

“It was alarming. I was flabbergasted.”
Posted at 12:18 AM, May 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-20 10:05:28-04

MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. — Martin County leaders and state lawmakers say they are concerned about the accuracy of the COVID-19 infection rate being reported in Martin County by the Florida Department of Health.

Now, they are taking action to try to make the information more accurate.

Positive COVID-19 cases are being promptly reported, but there are potentially thousands of negative COVID-19 test results that have yet to be reported to the Florida Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Martin County Administrator Taryn Kryzda said the county has been increasing the amount of testing available throughout the county. As a result, she knew hundreds of additional tests had been conducted in the county over the last week.

In a meeting with health department leadership Monday, Kryzda said she noticed the recent tests were not reflected on the health department's COVID-19 dashboard.

“We knew we were doing hundreds [of tests] on a daily basis. That helped us uncover this situation,” Kryzda explained.

In the meeting, Kryzda said the health department confirmed they were lagging behind in reporting negative cases, citing technical issues. “The positive results tend to be entered fairly quickly, but the negative ones were lagging because they required manual input,” Kryzda said.

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The negative test results come from a variety of places and providers.

“3,000 or more negative results have not been entered into Martin County’s database,” Kryzda estimated.

That includes Cleveland Clinic Martin Health, which according to Kryzda, was having complications reporting at least 1,000 of its cases to the health department.

“It was alarming. I was flabbergasted,” Kryzda said. She ordered the county’s local COVID-19 dashboard to be pulled down.

“It was obvious to me that we were misleading the public because we were utilizing the same data to make our own dashboard,” Kryzda said.

Following the meeting, Kryzda reached out to various state lawmakers, including Representative Toby Overdorf, Senator Gayle Harrell, and Representative MaryLynn Magar.

Overdorf said he immediately started looking at the data.

“We’re looking at even in St. Lucie County they were decreasing to below a 3% [infection] rate and Martin County was increasing, hitting close to 11%,” Overdorf said.

He said the state has offered resources to the health department, such as more personnel, to help manually input the negative test result data.

Kryzda said the county has offered the same assistance to the health department.

“The Martin County Department of Health really needs to accept the help from the Martin County administration. Let's get these negative cases entered and get a real, truthful picture of what’s happening in Martin County,” Overdorf said.

Overdorf also said he believes this could be happening in counties statewide, not just Martin County.

Senator Gayle Harrell said in a statement, “Accurate and timely reporting of these test results is extremely important but can be very complicated given the different types of tests and specific technology used for processing the tests by various labs. I have been in direct communication with Surgeon General Rivkees concerning the recent delay and backlog in reporting the results of a specific type of test in Martin County. The reporting mechanism used by Abbott Laboratory does not interface directly with the DOH MERLIN system. Dr. Rivkees and the Dept. of Health are working diligently to resolve this problem. He has assured me that all backlogged test results will be updated into the state dashboard within the next 24 hours even if they have to be entered manually by the Dept. of Health.”

Representative MaryLynn Magar said in a statement, “The data we collect is very important to the safety of our communities, especially as we increase testing. I am glad this issue is being resolved quickly as the Department of Health consistently works to improve the accuracy of the data for the state of Florida.”

Renay Rouse, the spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health in Martin County, said she anticipates the issue will be resolved sometime Wednesday.