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COVID data discrepancies need to be corrected

| September 20, 2020 12:00 AM

Having accurate, up-to-date information about the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in Flathead County is imperative as we all make daily decisions about how to go about our lives. Unfortunately, we learned this week we’re not getting a clear picture of the number of positive cases here because the Flathead City-County Health Department is up to its eyeballs with tracking cases amid a virus surge and hasn’t been conveying the numbers to the state in a timely manner.

The state health department has acknowledged the numbers it publishes daily about cases in all Montana counties are not updated in real time. The Daily Inter Lake has been using state data for its daily COVID-19 report of new cases, but on Friday we pulled the plug on that report because it’s just not accurate.

While the state report listed few new cases for Flathead County earlier this week — and even no new cases one day — the county actually has experienced an average of 20 to 30 new cases per day over the last week. The county’s infectious disease specialist told the Board of Health on Thursday cases have “really been ramping up.”

The danger of state reports that don’t reflect a ramp up of COVID is the tendency of people to let their guard down if there’s the illusion of case numbers dropping. It’s hard enough to keep on social distancing and wearing masks, and let’s face it, it’s human nature to throw caution to the wind if we believe the virus is going away.

Clearly, Flathead County numbers show it’s not going away and is, in fact, getting worse. The health department is stretched thin monitoring well over 1,000 people right now. Other counties apparently are having the same problem with case workloads that have prevented timely reports to the state.

We need a solution to this problem, and we need it now.

If our local health department needs more manpower to do the work, then it behooves our county officials to find the resources to hire more help.

The federal CARES Act allocated $1.25 billion to the state of Montana to help us deal with the pandemic. Surely some of that money could be tapped to bolster the workforces of the Flathead City-County Health Department and other counties where employees are overwhelmed with the tracking of new COVID cases that is so critically important.

This is a deadly virus that already has killed many people in Flathead County. Certainly the very least our government can do is provide the resources not only for contact tracing but also accurate data reporting on new cases. Doing so may save lives.