Technological flaws in the state's electronic laboratory system have led to an under-reporting of coronavirus cases in Los Angeles County for at least two weeks, health officials said Tuesday, prompting outreach to individual testing facilities to verify results.
According to the county Department of Public Health, the issues with the state lab have impacted the county's reporting of positive cases and efforts to conduct contact-tracing of confirmed patients. But the issues are not believed to have caused any delays in people being notified of their test results.
News of the reporting issues came on a day the county announced another 57 deaths due to the virus, although one of those fatalities was announced Monday by health officials in Long Beach. Long Beach and Pasadena, both of which have their own health departments, each reported one additional death Tuesday.
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To date, the countywide coronavirus death toll is 4,760.
The county on Tuesday also reported another 1,901 new virus cases, while Long Beach added 261 cases and Pasadena announced seven, pushing the countywide total since the start of the pandemic to 195,882.
The extent of the undercount due to the problems with the state lab was not immediately known. According to the county, local health officials have been aware of issues with the reporting system for about two weeks. In hopes of resolving the undercount, the county is contacting at least 81 labs to obtain their testing results dating back to July 26 "to determine the accurate positive case count in Los Angeles County for the time period in question."
County officials said a system is also being put in place to have labs report positive results directly to the Department of Public Health to assure an accurate case count and expedite contact tracing efforts.
According to the department, the state reporting issues are not affecting other statistics, most notably hospitalizations, which have been on a downward trend over the past two weeks. As of Tuesday, the number of people hospitalized due to the virus was 1,757, down slightly from Monday.
"Hospitalization data for Los Angeles County still shows a decrease, and we continue to be cautiously optimistic that our efforts over the past few weeks may be starting to slow the spread,'' public health director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement.
Ferrer said Monday the decrease in hospitalizations and the leveling off of testing-positivity rates are positive signs indicating that recent closures of bars and elimination of indoor dining have helped control the spread of COVID-19. She said residents' adherence to requirements such as wearing face coverings and engaging in physical distancing was also paying off.
But she urged residents not to become complacent, noting that more work needs to be done so the county can be removed from the state's coronavirus watch list -- which includes 38 counties struggling to control the spread of COVID-19.
Until the county is off that list for two weeks, it will not be able to resume wide-spread business reopenings and move ahead with reopening school campuses.
"For our long-term success we need to be able to limit the spread of COVID-19 for many, many weeks to come, and we need to do this while we move forward on a recovery journey," Ferrer said Monday. "We need to understand that we are in fact creating a new normal. We can't go back to life as we knew it before March, not right now.
"A few months ago when we collectively and successfully flattened the curve and we reopened many of our key businesses and community sectors, a lot of us decided that that meant we could resume life as we knew it before the pandemic hit. We simply can't do this again. We still have a ways to go to reduce community transmission.''