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Hawaiʻi DOH: COVID-19 electronic reporting system is stressed; data sets affected

State health director Dr. Elizabeth Char (left) and state epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble (right).
PC: state Department of Health (Zoom image grab Jan. 15, 2022)

The Hawai‘i Department of Health will temporarily stop reporting specific data sets on Sunday, Jan. 16 so its data collection and reporting system can continue to accurately process the thousands of positive tests recorded at laboratories daily, the department reported today.

DOH systems have not been able to process the large volume of positive and negative cases in recent days, according to the department. As a result, thousands of cases, both positive and negative, have not been reported.

“Todayʻs case numbers are before resolving the bottleneck,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble. “So the first day we might see some impact from that would be tomorrow, but there’s also some recovery from the system as it’s trying to take in all of these results, so I’m not sure how much of that will in fact hit tomorrow as the system tries to recover its processing speeds.”

Dr. Kemble explained that this situation is a little different than what we had seen before, with a batch of cases that got brought in after a delay. “This is a general wave of cases being stopped up / slowed down a little bit. So overall, the trends are not as impacted, but it’s harder for us to say any given day if the cases are going up or down right now, because we know there are those cases sitting outside the door, waiting to get in,” she said.

“In order to expedite the processing and reporting of positive cases, DOH will suspend the processing of negative cases. This will allow for accurate positive case counts,” according to a department release.

Dr. Kemble said that by turning off the negative case stream, the department anticipates that more of those results will start to catch up, “but it’s hard to predict exactly how many. I think it will probably be over the next four to five days that we see the positives that would have been in there, filter in and catch up. So it’s not going to be all at once, but I think we might anticipate a bit of a bump in the case numbers over the next four to five days.”

The department reports that all tests, both positive and negative, must be processed in order to ascertain positivity rates and produce certain data sets. Therefore, positivity rates and some data sets will not be available while DOH assesses alternative ways to accurately report on both positive case counts and percent positivity regardless of testing volume.

Record COVID-19 case counts in recent weeks are also necessitating a change in case investigation, according to the DOH. “Contact tracers simply cannot keep pace with the large number of COVID-19 cases,” the DOH reports.

Contact tracers are focusing their attention on priority groups including COVID-19 clusters associated with schools and high-risk settings such as long-term care facilities.

“We have reported roughly 48,000 COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks. It would be unrealistic to think our 378 contact tracers could get in touch with all those people. So, we are focusing on providing general and setting-specific guidance, and on cluster investigations that will help protect vulnerable populations,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble.

“The number of cases Hawai‘i is experiencing is unprecedented, leading to a tremendous demand for testing. As testing data flows through the electronic reporting system, the system is stressed. Our essential DOH employees are also wrestling with tremendous challenges. We must adapt to address these circumstances,” said Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char, FACEP.

According to Dr. Kemble, the bottleneck impacts the DOH ability to process results through the state surveillance system, “and thatʻs what then feeds our dashboards that show the general trends tot he public.” She continued, “this doesn’t impact the individual laboratoriesʻ ability to get results back and to share that with the individual who got the test. So this issue would not impact an individual getting their test result back or the timing of that.”

“Everyone can be part of the solution. Wear well-fitting masks. Don’t take them off near anyone from outside your household. Avoid large crowds. And if you have COVID symptoms or think you have been exposed, isolate yourself immediately. Isolating yourself to slow transmission is absolutely necessary,” Char added.

Dr. Char responded to Maui Now’s request for comment related to neighbor island impacts saying, “This data issue is statewide. We’re talking about statewide numbers and all of the data gets processed through the state system. You’re correct, I’m seeing numbers on Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi, and again, this just indicates the we have just widespread community transmission in communities statewide. It’s not limited to one locale.”

“It also raises the issue as you know, of hospital capacity and health care access… so we are very much tuned in to what’s going on across the state in terms of health care and access. I know that Maui Memorial has been very busy and they’re doing a terrific job of trying to accommodate everybody that needs healthcare, whether it’s for COVID or not,” said Dr. Char.

There are 5,977 new COVID-19 cases today, including 913 cases on Maui, 23 on Molokaʻi, and 20 on Lānaʻi.

There are now 37 people hospitalized in Maui County with COVID-19, according to counts last updated at 9 a.m. on Jan. 15, 2022, from Maui Health. Seventeen of the current Maui COVID-19 hospitalizations are in vaccinated, and 20 are in unvaccinated individuals. There are now six Maui COVID-positive patients in the ICU (1 vaccinated/5 unvaccinated) and one vaccinated COVID-19 patient on a ventilator. Hospital representatives note that the person on a ventilator is not hospitalized for COVID-19. 

“I think the good thing is that we’ve been working really hard at the Department of Health and partnering with HI-EMA, FEMA, and the Health Care Association of Hawaiʻi to bring in some additional staffing to help with the surge staffing. So hopefully they are up and running very soon, like in the next few days, and that will help to staff the hospitals and help take care of the COVID patients,” said Dr. Char.

The DOH estimates that cumulatively, laboratories across the state have been processing well over 10-20k tests per day.

Department Spokesperson Brooks Baehr said the issue is not a lack of bodies, although the department does have a lack of staffing and a diminishing workforce. He said this particular bottleneck is more of a computer system issue than bodies. “This system has never seen numbers like this… people can help by guarding against COVID.”

Vaccination and testing options are available at hawaiicovid19.com or on Maui at https://www.mauinuistrong.info.

*Maui Nowʻs Wendy Osher contributed to this report.

Original source: https://mauinow.com/2022/01/15/hawai%ca%bbi-doh-covid-19-electronic-reporting-system-is-stressed-data-sets-affected/

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