Are States Manipulating Data to Reopen Sooner?

Concerns About False and insufficient COVID-19 Information Emerge as States Plan to Reopen


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Map of counties in the United States that have imposed stay-at-home orders

Nick Fowler, Reporter

With various accusations of misrepresentation and manipulation of data, concern is growing over states plans to reopen soon.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Virginia, Texas and Vermont have been combining the results of viral tests, which show an active infection, with antibody tests, which show a past infection. Public health experts say this shows off impressive testing numbers, but does not give a true picture of how the virus is spreading. This may not be an attempt to trick anyone. It is possible states may not have updated information systems that allow them to tell the difference between an antibody test and a viral test. However, mixing the two makes determining the level of disease and making decisions more difficult.

According to the Los Angeles Times, The Public Health Department in Georgia, one of the first states to reopen, published a graph showing the number of cases appearing to be steadily declining. The graph, now removed from the website, put the dates not in chronological order but in descending order. 

Georgia’s Department of Public Health also regularly publishes a graph that shows cases over time, but lists new cases on the day the patient first reported symptoms, rather than on the day they came back positive. This practice shifts the timeline and makes it appear as if the state is moving past the peak.

Business Insider reported that Arizona’s Health Department told teams of researchers from two of the state’s universities to stop their work after they predicted COVID-19 cases had yet to peak in the state. This order came shortly after Governor Doug Ducey announced he would lift some restrictions on businesses.

According to Corey Siemaszko of NBC News, Rebekah Jones was on the team working on Florida’s COVID-19 dashboard, the public information portal that lists the number of coronavirus casualties and cases, until she was told to resign or be fired on Monday, May 18. She claims that she was fired because she refused to manipulate data to paint a brighter picture of the situation and gain support for reopening the state. This has elevated already existing concerns about false information being used to reopen states quicker than is safe.

  “I think the chances of Washington doing something like this are low because Inslee has held steadfast this entire time and hasn’t been in a hurry so under him I trust they won’t falsify anything,” said Bishop Blanchet senior Josh Marchand. “The tendency seems to be that more conservative states are willing to reopen sooner so they may be doing more stuff to reopen.”

Other concerns about reopening came when a few state Governors pushed back against President Donald Trump’s statement that the country has enough data to reopen without risking lives. According to CNBC, Larry Hogan, Governor of Maryland, dismissed the claim as absolutely false, while Ralph Northam of Virginia called it delusional.

“I would like to see more data before the reopening process happens,” said Bishop Blanchet senior Dominic Orsi. “There is no need to rush into it without the required information.”