Data Hiccup Hits Florida COVID Numbers While Virus Remains Stable

Despite a problem processing test results from one lab, the state Department of Health says the data is correct and continues to show the coronavirus levels hold steady.

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Each morning, amateurs and experts alike scour the Florida Department of Health COVID data for signs of anything unusual.

On Saturday, when the state announced the reports would not be released because of problems processing results from one lab, it touched off a Category 5 nerd alert among some of those who closely follow the data.

The state said it delayed the results after receiving what "appeared to be approximately 400,000 previously reported COVID-19 test results by Helix, a private laboratory."

The state Monday said neither the FDOH nor Helix was to blame for the "unforeseen technical issue (that) resulted in the data's repeated replication."

In a statement sent Tuesday, a spokesperson wrote, "Helix submitted results in accordance with the Florida Statute and DOH procedures and was not at fault for this incident. On the day in question, we submitted approximately 3,000 reports, in line with our testing volumes from that day. As far as we can tell, our transmission was normal. Due to an unforeseen technical issue not caused by Helix, however, previously reported historical data was repeated. We continue to work with the Department of Health to understand exactly what happened and why our historical data was impacted." 

It was obvious the lab, based in California, did not submit 400,000 unique test results of Florida residents, as the program is designed to process, because it had only reported results for about 64,500 people before Saturday.

"We are working with technical experts to ensure this does not happen with subsequent data submissions," FDOH said in a statement.

After deleting the duplicated results, the state issued reports on Sunday and Monday that it says are accurate.

They did show a one-day blip in positivity rate for results received Friday, but when calculated over seven days -- as experts advise -- that new case rate has remained below 5 percent for a full month.

Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, chair of epidemiology at Florida International University, told NBC 6 Monday, "We are plateauing still in Florida and Miami. We may increase in the next few week due to reopening, but for now things are pretty stable."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with the response from Helix received Tuesday.

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