Data gaps in 20+ states blinded leaders to threat of delta variant, officials say 

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More than 20 states are still struggling to fill key gaps in COVID-19 case and hospitalization data reporting as the delta variant surges across the country, Politico reported Sept. 2. 

Seven things to know: 

1. With contract tracing efforts stalling in states such as Louisiana over the past year and thousands of labs still not sending in test results electronically, health departments across the U.S. are experiencing slowdowns in COVID-19 surveillance operations. 

2. Health officials in at least 20 states told Politico that their data systems and the patchwork surveillance process were never going to hold up against the delta variant, which is two to three times more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19, according to the report. 

3. Lee Mendoza, health informatics director at the Louisiana health department, told the publication that the recent surge coupled with the lack of improvements in data reporting feels like when the pandemic first began in 2020. 

"It is a little bit like we're back at the beginning because cases are going up so quickly. Hospitalizations have gone up so quickly … testing has gone up so quickly," he said. "The demands on our time, both in terms of data requests, information and additional reporting is just really increasing at a pace that's very difficult." 

4. Louisiana's health department cannot perform in-house genomic sequencing on virus samples, so it has teamed up with academic organizations to increase the number of samples it sends for sequencing each month. In June, the state had sequenced 418 COVID-19 specimens; by the end of July, that number jumped to 1,672, according to the report. 

5. Despite its academic partnerships, Louisiana said it is still not sequencing as many virus samples as it wants and lab glitches and errors in hospitalization information have created blind spots in key datasets. 

6. When asked about their efforts to collect data, streamline reporting and examine the information, health officials "often replied with a sigh," according to the report. These leaders told the publication that the worst part about the situation is that the breakdowns in gathering and processing the public health data were largely avoidable. 

7. For years, health officials have urged the federal government to put more resources into revamping the U.S.'s public health infrastructure. Because states often track diseases in different ways, their systems don't talk to one another and don't always allow officials to load case data automatically from one outbreak investigation to the next, according to the report. 

Click here to access the full report. 


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