Louisiana Legislative Auditor finds health department coronavirus case counts “generally correct”

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Red River, DeSoto Parishes challenge numbers

By David Jacobs

Motel 6

Claims by two Louisiana parishes that state health officials may have overstated local coronavirus case counts are largely unfounded, according to the Louisiana Legislative Auditor. The auditor’s office found state health department case reporting to be “generally correct” and said it plans to audit the state’s dashboard to “fully determine the integrity of the data.” Officials in Red River and DeSoto parishes said in July that the Louisiana Department of Health was reporting too many coronavirus cases in their parishes.

LDH’s count for Red River was 38 cases (66 percent) too high, while in DeSoto the state’s count was 105 cases (21 percent) too high, the local officials said. Officials in Red River used their count to justify opting out of the statewide face covering mandate. At the time, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ executive order allowed parishes to do so if they had a low incidence of coronavirus, though the renewed order issued Thursday removed this provision. “No parish meets this requirement, and recommendations from the White House Coronavirus Task Force support a statewide mandate,” the governor’s office said Thursday.

The alleged overcount also allows critics of the various restrictions and mandates meant to contain the pandemic to argue state officials are overstating the threat. LDH refuted the parishes’ claims last month, and in its new report issued Thursday, the legislative auditor sided with the state health department. The discrepancies resulted from a misunderstanding of a report LDH prepares for local first responders, such as law enforcement and emergency medical personnel, the auditor’s office found.

The reports were meant to warn first responders to take necessary precautions when they come in contact with someone who has tested positive but were never intended to represent the cumulative positive case count for each parish. “Because of the need to provide timely information on positive cases, [the reports] contained data that included duplicate cases and incomplete parish information that had not yet been corrected by LDH,” the legislative auditor says.

The auditor’s office found that none of the duplicates reported by Red River Parish were counted twice on LDH’s dashboard, and all but three duplicates identified by DeSoto Parish were not counted twice on LDH’s dashboard. According to LDH, 1 to 2 percent of the cases reported on the dashboard are potential duplicates that will eventually be removed through its automated and manual review.

“We plan to conduct an audit of the dashboard to fully determine the integrity of the data reported on it,” the legislative auditor says.