COVID-19 cases near 20K as DHS starts clearing major backlog

DHS is not saying how big the backlog is.
Published: Jan. 14, 2022 at 3:31 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Facing a large backlog of new COVID-19 cases caused by most recent surge, the Dept. of Health Services is warning that its daily case counts will be inflated for several days as the state agency works to get its numbers in line with what’s really happening at the county level.

On Friday, DHS reported for 19,783 new confirmed cases for that day alone. That figure towers over record high of 13,355 cases reported just a day earlier. While those nearly 20,000 cases are more than true number reported over the past day, the difference is just making up for part of the backlog of cases reported to DHS, but not included in its statistics.

As the new daily statistics were released, state officials explained that they have changed their reporting system so that the totals DHS receives from county health departments are automatically imported into its Wisconsin Electronic Disease Surveillance System. DHS stated, “[t]his change will help DHS provide the most accurate and up-to-date data moving forward.”

Prior to Friday’s announcement, NBC15 News had reached out to DHS multiple times throughout this week to find out how many cases were stuck in the staging area, waiting to be reported. The agency did respond to NBC15 Friday, linking to their announcement about the backlog.

Under the old system, the gap between how many cases reported by Public Health Madison & Dane Co. was exceeding DHS’ figures by more than 1,000 cases per day, likely causing the state’s official figures to be significantly lower than the numbers it was reporting up until now.

PHMDC had previously explained that the gap was caused because the numbers reported by county agencies would go to a so-called “staging area” and DHS would not report them until they were fully processed. State officials claimed the new system should help local and tribal health departments deal with the massive surge of new cases they are handling.

Dept. of Health Services new case report for Jan. 14, 2022.
Dept. of Health Services new case report for Jan. 14, 2022.(Dept. of Health Services)

The latest figure Friday sent the seven-day rolling average to more than 10,000 new confirmed cases for the first time since the pandemic began. Agencies officials did not indicate how the inflated numbers would affect the rolling average, which is designed to smooth out any single day spikes, but it could be considered more accurate of a representation of the current state of the pandemic if most of the backlogged cases had been initially reported during the past seven days.

“We encourage you look at seven-day averages… as well as data by date of symptom onset or diagnosis to more accurately track disease activity in Wisconsin,” the agency recommended.

While it is reportedly making up for old cases, DHS’ case count Friday still underreported the increase in total case count reported each day, which has now hit 139,933 cases since the pandemic began. That puts the increase in that number at more than 23,000 new cases, when compared to Thursday’s total case count.

Although DHS had been behind in reporting the total number of new cases being recorded at the county level, it assured Wisconsinites that the reason for the backlog would not have affected how quickly individuals are notified of any positive test. However, the test was conducted, that agency or testing facility would have contacted infected persons immediately after confirming they contracted the virus.

But… DHS did warn about providers taking longer to deliver results. Health officials explained their turnaround times could increase because they are dealing with an onslaught of tests. It added that anyone who has waited more than three days for a test result should call their health care provider or 211 for assistance.

Total number of COVID-19-related deaths reported on Jan. 14, 2022.
Total number of COVID-19-related deaths reported on Jan. 14, 2022.(Dept. of Health Services)

Despite the extraordinary case count number, the number of deaths included in DHS’ report Friday remained in line with averages reports over the past few months. The agency’s system had indicated all data could be affected by the system switchover but did not specifically state if deaths were being underreported. The 29 deaths recorded Friday brought that category’s seven-day rolling average to 24 cases per day over the past week. However, that average has fluctuated between 19 and 29 per day since the beginning of December.

Although, those 29 deaths were in line with prior averages the increase, the change in the total number of deaths reported by DHS was nearly twice as high, jumping by 52 to 10,486 deaths from complications related to COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

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