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State Government News

State Auditor's report finds Iowa health officials accurately reported COVID-19 data

iowa-covid-dashboard.png
Screenshot
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A screenshot of the state's public COVID-19 dashboard, which is updated on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

A new report by the state auditor’s office has found Iowa state health officials accurately reported COVID-19 numbers during the first part of the pandemic.

The report analyzed Iowa’s COVID-19 data from March 1, 2020 to May 17, 2021, the period that the state was updating data on its public dashboard on a daily basis.

It compared data downloaded from the state health department’s public COVID-19 dashboard created by Utah-based software company Domo to data in IDPH's internal disease surveillance system.

It did not find any significant differences between the data sets.

State Auditor Rob Sand said it found some issues that drew public complaints were out of the state’s control.

"The late entries that a lot of people were talking about — suspicious about — early in the pandemic were not because the state was messing anything up," he said. "It was because the private labs that were doing the testing were regularly submitting results very late to the state of Iowa."

Sand said the audit did show that state officials could be more transparent about their numbers.

"One of the things, for example, is even though you know, they always calculated their positivity rates correctly, there's different formulas that can be used to calculate that," he said. "And so at that time, it would have been beneficial if they had made it clear from the beginning what sort of formula they were using for that calculation."

Since the start of the pandemic, the state has shifted the way its reported COVID-19 information several times.

The state launched its public dashboard in April 2020 and has shifted the way and how frequently it reports data several times.

Former state medical director Caitlin Pedati drew controversy in August 2020 when she admitted during a press conference that she knew some COVID-19 test results were attributed to the wrong dates, potentially altering county test positivity rates that affected whether schools could reopen at the time.

In a response to Sand included at the end of the report, IDPH Director Kelly Garcia said it highlights the need to update IDPH’s outdated IT and data systems to better prepare for future emergencies.

“We appreciate that the Auditor’s report recognizes our team’s heroic efforts of the last two years and validates the principle that guides the work we do, protecting the health of Iowans," Garcia said.

"From our epi teams who work to validate and analyze public health data, our IM team who manage and control the flow of data, to our partnership with the State Hygienic Lab, the report shows an incredibly complex system functioning as it should."

The state auditor's report was part of bipartisan COVID-19 Audit Task Force, which includes other states.