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DHS: Inflated COVID-19 numbers are over, but they’re still at record highs

Published: Jan. 19, 2022 at 3:34 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 19, 2022 at 6:30 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Statewide COVID-19 case numbers are back to normal now after four days of extraordinarily high daily figures caused by a Dept. of Health Services reporting backlog that saw new case counts reach as high as 38,000 on one day.

That said, Wednesday’s total for new, confirmed cases (12,909) still slotted in at fifth all-time. According to a DHS official, the agency had cleared the backlogged cases by Monday and, that Tuesday and Wednesday’s reports would be “a more accurate reflection of the actual number of new cases that are coming into the system (each day).”

On Tuesday, the agency reported 14,994 new, confirmed cases, which would be the highest single day total, not including the days affected by the changeover, eclipsing the 14,311 number reported the day before state health officials warned to expect several days of inflated reports. The new case count did retreat a bit on Wednesday, to 12,909 confirmed cases.

Those three days, which included three of the six highest yet recorded (excluding the recent inflated figures) on top of the four days DHS was getting older cases into its records meant the seven-day rolling average remained at an outsized 18,473 cases per day over the past week. While the metric is normally one used to mitigate day-to-day fluctuations, it will likely remain inordinately high until next Tuesday as it will continue to include at least some effect of the changes by the state agency.

Dept. of Health Services cases on Jan. 19, 2022.
Dept. of Health Services cases on Jan. 19, 2022.(Dept. of Health Services)

An DHS official had confirmed earlier in the day that the logjam was cleared with the previous day’s report. Bureau of Communicable Diseases Director Traci DeSalvo explained that with those cases now included in the counts, all newly reported cases will be automatically imported into its system as they come in. Before Friday, positive cases needed to be manually entered before being included.

With its queue now empty, DHS opened up more about the causes behind the situation that resulted in tens of thousands of cases piling up as they waited to be processed. During a meeting with reporters, DeSalvo said agency officials began seeing extra cases not included in daily reports starting to increase in the past couple weeks. DHS decided to move to the auto-import system that was already in place for negative cases for positive ones to in order to report them in a timely fashion, she continued.

Even with the new system in place to record new cases more quickly, the percentage of tests reported that come back positive remained steady. DHS reported a percent-positive of 27 percent on Wednesday, consistent with previous days which were also around the one-quarter mark.

Deaths also stayed within recent trends as cases surged. However, they spiked on Wednesday, hitting 65 newly confirmed deaths from complications related to COVID-19, the highest number reported in more than a year. Someone would have to go back to Jan. 15, 2021, when 78 deaths were recorded to find a higher one-day total. The seven-day rolling average did jump to 27 per day over the past week but remained within the same range it has been since early December.

Daily COVID-19 deaths reported by Dept. of Health on Jan. 19, 2022.
Daily COVID-19 deaths reported by Dept. of Health on Jan. 19, 2022.(Dept. of Health Services)

Runaway Case Activity

The state’s case activity report that is released every Wednesday appears to be the latest one upended by recent days. While every county and the state as a whole already ranked in the critically high activity, the reported case burdens exploded – despite the fact that half the data for the weekly reports, each of which covers a two-week span, is the same.

Wisconsin’s case activity hit nearly 4,200 cases per 100,000 residents, according to the report, up from the nearly 2,500 number reported last Wednesday. Either of those numbers are still far in excess of the 1,000 cases per 100,000 that qualifies as critical.

Dane Co. saw an even bigger jump. Its cases activity quadrupled from 1,284 cases per 100,000 last week to 5,195 now.

NBC15 News has reached out to DHS to confirm that these numbers would have been affected by the recent switch and will update this story if they respond. If it is the case that the inflated numbers carried into to this tracker, it should affect next week’s case activity because it would include this past week as well.

(UPDATE: A Dept. of Health Services spokesperson responded Thursday morning that its data specialists believe these numbers are not “significantly inflated by the backlog,” explaining that the logjam mainly included cases from that span.)

Dept. of Health Services weekly COVID-19 activity report, on Jan. 19, 2022.
Dept. of Health Services weekly COVID-19 activity report, on Jan. 19, 2022.(Dept. of Health Services)

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