SANTA ANA (CBSLA) — In a Thursday news conference, Orange County officials addressed a gaffe in the county’s reporting of coronavirus test numbers which made it appear testing was greater than it actually was.
According to officials, 30,000 antibody tests were incorrectly included in the total number of COVID-19 tests in Orange County between April 28 and June 3.
“It’s an incredibly big deal because you have to look at it in the context of everything that has transpired,” said Congressman Harley Rouda.
In a press conference Thursday, County Supervisor Michele Steele, who is running against Rouda in November for the 48th District seat, said she wasn’t aware of the mistake until today.
“The board of supervisors was not informed of this until we saw it in the press today,” Steele said.
Orange County Health Care Agency Director Dr. Clayton Chau, who is also serving as the county’s chief health officer, said when health leaders became aware of the error on June 3, they stopped adding antibody tests to the total but they didn’t subtract the 30,000 off until two weeks later.
“We got caught up with the reopening of different sectors and then there were glitches with the new system so it wasn’t ready until June 26,” Chau said.
Chau also said the error did not affect the positivity rate which was correctly calculated by the state.
UC Irvine Epidemiologist Andrew Noymer, who is collaborating with the county to understand mortality rates, said even if it did affect the rate, “from 5% to 5.8% was the effect of correcting the error in the numbers so I don’t see it as a game-changer.”
But Rouda said the error had an impact because it happened at a time when masks were being debated in Orange County.
“Used that as a false sense of security to change the mandate from wearing a mask outside to recommend if you want to wear a mask,” Rouda said.
In June, former health director Dr. Nicole Quick resigned after facing pushback about her mask mandate.
A few days later, Chau announced masks would go from being required to strongly recommended in public settings.
During the press conference, Orange County CEO and the acting health director took the blame for the error, the delay in correction and why county supervisors were not informed.
Also Thursday, county health officials announced 652 more coronavirus cases and nine more deaths, bringing the county’s totals to 15,065 cases and 354 fatalities.
On Tuesday, the county reported a one-day record 779 newly confirmed cases.