SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Matt Constantine, Director of Kern County Public Health, told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday that labs were inaccurately reporting data from COVID-19 testing to public health. At the same time, the California Department of Public Health issued new regulations expanding data reporting requirements for providers and laboratories.
The state said labs and providers are now required to report race and ethnicity data as well as a patient's gender identity and sexual orientation. This is so the state has more information on patients who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
"Complete data is essential to addressing health inequities and better designing public health interventions that save lives," said Dr. Sonia Angell, State Public Health Officer and Director of the California Department of Public Health.
On Tuesday, Constantine told supervisors Kern County Public Health has received lab reports missing data, including missing a patient's date of birth or ethnicity, making contact tracing difficult. On top of missing information, Constantine said labs are taking up to 19 days to return results and holding onto samples until turnaround times improve.
Kern County Public Health reports ethnicity and gender on its COVID-19 Dashboard. For weeks, Hispanics were among the most reported cases in Kern County. Yet on Tuesday, public health reported that 8,991, or 53% of positive cases, were of unknown ethnicity.
"It’s not only delays, its information that incomplete and in some cases inaccurate that’s causing us problems," Constantine said.
According to the state, while providers are currently required to report race and ethnicity data to the state, the information received is often incomplete. Race and ethnicity data are still missing from nearly 36% of cases in California.
"Improving our data is like getting a new pair of glasses that helps us see more clearly," said California's Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. "Using binoculars that help us see a little bit further out."
Now, those going to get a COVID-19 test should be prepared to answer specific questions. Labs and providers collecting tests will ask about race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity.