EXPLAINED: Why nearly 15,000 new coronavirus cases were reported in the Houston area in one day

HOUSTON – Tuesday saw the largest single-day increase in newly reported coronavirus cases in the Houston area since the numbers started being tracked in March.

After a steady decline in the number of newly reported COVID-19 cases for the past couple of weeks, 14,687 cases were added to the numbers Tuesday.

A bulk of those newly reported cases – 13,875 – came from Harris County.

According to a pair of tweets from Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, a majority of those new cases were the result of a backlog being cleared.

“341 cases are from the last 14 days, 424 are from the last 15-28 days, and 13,110 are from 28 days+,” the tweets read.

According to the tweet, the backlog was the result of the use of “an automated system designed to reduce some delays in reporting times moving forward.”

“It’s just clerical work that can’t be sped up," Hidalgo said during an interview with KPRC 2 on Wednesday. "It involves calling specific labs, calling specific physicians, calling up the state. The reality is the system was not designed to be perfectly efficient when it comes to having these reports be streamlined.”

Dr. James McDeavitt, senior vice president and dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine, said the state could not handle an influx of cases that were being reported.

“They are receiving info from over 600 different labs in all sorts of formats," McDeavitt said. “Some of it is electronic. Some of it is people physically writing on paper the results of COVID tests and faxing it.”

“Way back in July, all these cases weren’t being put into the system," McDeavitt added. “So as panicked as we were in July, as bad as things looked, we were actually worse.”

In the chart above, KPRC 2 is tracking the raw data each day, which sometimes results in large spikes when backlogs are cleared. However, county health officials have said they back-date the results so that their data reflects when the case was reported.

A similar backlog issue was reported last month by the Texas Department of State Health Services in the tracking of the state’s seven-day positivity rate, which resulted in huge swings in the data.