See what 5 health experts say about the state’s coronavirus data backlog and what to expect as schools reopen

A health care worker speaks to a patient at a drive-thru coronavirus testing site in Garland.                    Credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune
A health care worker speaks to a patient at a drive-thru coronavirus testing site in Garland. Credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune

After state officials this month disclosed hundreds of thousands of coronavirus tests had not been previously reported — a backlog that has distorted metrics used to gauge the toll of the pandemic — Gov. Greg Abbott said Sunday that the current data is “far more accurate than what we had last month.”

The disclosure of the backlog was the latest in a string of data problems that have plagued the state’s public accounting of the pandemic and came as schools and universities prepared to resume instruction for the fall term.

While patients were notified of their test results, the cases were not reported to some local health departments, which meant those departments couldn’t assign contact tracers to determine who may have been exposed to the virus.

The problems left some local officials and lawmakers frustrated.

“This pattern of folks at every level pretending like they have everything handled while behind closed doors they’re so overwhelmed and behind that the data is meaningless… it’s toxic and dishonest,” state Rep. Erin Zwiener, D-Driftwood, said on Twitter.

Collin County took the unusual step of stamping its coronavirus dashboard with a warning that officials lack confidence in the data provided by the state.

“The Commissioners Court is 100% certain that the COVID-19 data being reported for Collin County is inaccurate,” County Judge Chris Hill wrote on Facebook last week. The state has since assigned a dozen investigators to update the county’s data.

Lara Anton, a spokesperson for the Department of State Health Services, said positive tests revealed in the backlog show there might have been more infections in July than state officials previously knew about, but the “additional cases would not have changed the overall trend or the recommendations for the public.”