Lawmaker Calls for Hearing on California’s COVID-Reporting Glitch

August 14, 2020 Updated: August 18, 2020

California Assemblyman Kevin Kiley (R–Rocklin) is calling for an immediate joint oversight hearing following a glitch in state data leading to a backlog of approximately 300,000 COVID-19 test results.

A few days later, California’s top public health official, Dr. Sonia Angell, resigned without giving a reason. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Angell departed for “personal reasons.” It’s unclear whether her resignation is directly related to the data glitch. 

On Aug. 11, Kiley sent a letter to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon urging an investigation into the data glitch and Angell’s resignation. 

“The people of California deserve answers, the legislature needs answers. This is the data that the governor claims to be using to make decisions that are of paramount importance to the lives and livelihoods of 40 million people in our state,” Kiley told The Epoch Times.

“He’s using this data to make decisions about public health measures … I think the legislature has an obligation to step in to exercise its constitutional role of providing oversight and have an investigation to assure that this doesn’t happen again,” he said.

Kiley requested that testimony be given by several members in public health regarding the incident, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly, former Public Health Director Sonia Angell, Acting Public Health Director Sandra Shewry, and Acting State Public Health Officer Erica Pan.

“For the governor to refuse to explain a resignation is absolutely unacceptable, he’s not running a private company here,” Kiley said. “So that’s why I’ve called for her to testify, I’ve called for the governor himself to testify, and we need to actually get the facts about what happened,” he added.

The Glitch

The data was backlogged due to a glitch in the California Reportable Disease Information Exchange Electronic Laboratory Reporting (CalREDIE) system, which was unavailable for laboratories to upload results as of July 25. Officials said the system’s certificates weren’t updated, resulting in a server outage, and lab results went undetected for more than a week.

The data glitch induced a skewed metric of positive results and confirmed cases, making it more difficult to have accurate state and local responses. Local and state authorities have relied on the system’s data since early March when numbers were first recorded. Currently, the state has put a hold on updating the county watchlist—a list made up of high transmission regions—which currently has 38 counties on it. 

“Simultaneously, we discovered that we were not receiving data from one of our largest commercial labs for a period of five days,” California Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said during a press conference on Aug. 10. 

“This was due to a certificate that the state neglected to renew timely. This resulted in data not being able to transmit to the state,” he said. 

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) said in a media release that “the issue with the state’s electronic laboratory reporting system that generated the backlog has been addressed and CDPH continues to closely monitor the performance of the system.”

Ghaly said the system “was not built for this volume of data.” 

“In order to create a lasting solution, we are accelerating the development of a new laboratory reporting system for COVID-19,” he said.

OC Public Health Chief of Operations Weighs In

Marc Meulman, Chief of Operations of Public Health Services for the Orange County Health Care Agency (OCHA) told The Epoch Times he agrees with Ghaly.

The disease reporting system is not built to handle the volume of reports added due to COVID-19 and the State is aware of the need to update the system and is working on it,” Meulman wrote in an email. 

“Case reporting takes time and through the pandemic response all public health entities are attempting to process data as quickly as possible in order to inform response activities and inform the public of the status of the disease transmission, however, true real time data is difficult to achieve,” Meulman said. 

“Occasional added delays in receiving data do not substantially impact the response. The more timely the data, the better but data delays do and will occur,” he said.

Despite the uncounted tests, Gov. Newsom said California’s numbers remained in a steady downturn, and that overall, the state’s projections remain undeterred. 

“One thing we’re confident of is that the trend lines are favorable,” Newsom said during the press conference on Aug. 10

“We’re not seeing anything in the data to date, when looking at the backlog of 295,000 tests, that suggests the trend lines we advanced last Monday are not actually in play,” he said.

Meulman noted that “It is likely that hundreds of cases and thousands of test results (including negative results) were delayed longer than typical reporting timelines,” but the county is unable to calculate exactly how many results were backlogged at this time. 

“we do not have a way to distinguish case/test reports that are part of the backlog versus those that are coming through under normal process,” he wrote. 

As for the status of the patients’ recoveries, Muelman said “some may be recovered but many are likely still recovering as the delay wasn’t long enough for a large portion to be recovered.”

As of Aug. 13, Orange County has 42,171 cumulative cases to date, including deaths, and 32,984 recovered cases. There’s been a 19 percent decrease of hospitalizations over the last two weeks and COVID-19 patients now make up 7 percent of hospital admissions. 

“At the end of the day, the buck stops with me. I’m accountable,” Newsom said.

“And I recognize that as governor of the state of California as it relates to my responsibility, it extends to my team and it extends to our efforts to keep you safe, to keep you healthy and to mitigate the spread of this disease.”