States accused of fudging or bungling COVID-19 testing data

Ben Margot/AP Photo

Date Published: May 19, 2020

Source: AP News

Public health officials in some US states have been accused of misrepresenting COVID-19 statistics, in what some believe to be an effort to push re-opening of the economy. In Virginia, Texas and Vermont, the results of viral (active infections) and antibody tests (past infections) are being reported as a single number, which would overrepresent the total testing and does not show the true picture of how the virus is spreading. Georgia, one of the earliest states to ease restrictions, had published a graph which showed a decline in new COVID-19 cases over time; however, the numbers were actually arranged in descending rather than chronological order and new infections were being backdated to the onset of symptoms rather than the testing day. In Florida, Rebekah Jones, a data scientist who developed the state’s COVID-19 public dashboard says she was fired for refusing to manipulate data to “drum up support for the plan to re-open.” Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security said that while some of these discrepancies could be due to outdated information systems, the end result is that politicians and citizens will be using misrepresented data to make important decisions regarding everyday activities and public policy. 

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Summary by: Sophia Duong