Ohio auditor finds COVID-19 data generally accurate after earlier deaths reporting problem

People wait it line at the Dayton Convention Center to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Contributed

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People wait it line at the Dayton Convention Center to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. Contributed

Ohio Auditor Keith Faber’s office found Ohio Department of Health’s COVID-19 data to be generally accurate.

The audit published Tuesday was announced in July of 2020, initiated in September and part of a multi-state effort. Faber mentioned the audit of the COVID-19 numbers to the cheers of attendees at a Trump election rally in Dayton last year.

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Their analysis found minimal duplicates (0.20%), and minimal misclassifications between confirmed and probable cases (0.12%). The report did, however, list several recommendations for improvement.

“Bottom line: Were the numbers reported by ODH during this pandemic correct? Generally, yes,” Faber said in a letter published with the results of the audit. “I am pleased that ODH is taking steps to improve some operational issues, while also working proactively to implement some of the recommendations made in our audit already.”

Separate from Faber’s audit, Ohio Department of Health in February had announced about 4,000 deaths not part of the COVID-19 tally so far and has since been adding them to the tally. Faber’s office said the death data provided was not sufficient to allow his auditors to identify the death miscount.

Faber’s office said one of the limitations of the audit was that they were unable to conduct major portions of our data analysis based on ODH’s interpretation of federal health data privacy laws.

Stephanie McCloud, director of the Ohio Department of Health, in a letter of response to the audit generally agreed and thanked the auditor’s office for their work. however, she said her department disagrees with the auditor’s statements on data limitations, saying they provided auditors full access to the Ohio Disease Reporting System database and it reasonably appeared to ODH senior leadership “that your team was pleased with the cooperation and access they were given.“

“Finally, despite perceived limitations on data access, your team identified very few potential duplicate entries (.2%) and potential misclassifications of confirmed or probable cases (.12%) in the data set,” McCloud said.

The auditor’s office had established a hotline for Ohioans to report inaccurate test results, inaccurate communication from departments of health, and miscoding of hospitalizations and deaths and received 15 complete responses. In many cases, these were found to be the result of clerical errors. Ohio Department of Health gave explanations for 11 of the 15 hotline reports.

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Among audit findings and recommendations, the analysis stated that Ohio’s COVID-19 dashboard created by ODH, while informative, can be confusing and overwhelming for non-medical professionals, though Faber also said ODH “continues to adapt their public communications to public demands, and the data presented to Ohioans is largely accurate.” They recommended improvements in how data is presented to the public.

Auditors recommended Ohio Department of Health should review the guidance from NIHS, CDC and WHO, as well as the death reporting methods of other states and determine what, if any, changes should be made to the method currently used to count COVID-19 deaths and display them on the Dashboard

Auditors reported the existing 20-year-old system used by ODH to track and monitor infectious diseases is outdated and recommended the urgent implementation of a new system.

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