AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Department of State Health Services reported Monday that only 82% of hospitals in Texas reported complete data to the agency, resulting in a partial data set and an appearance of a drop in hospitalizations.
This comes after federal requirements changed last week, instructing hospitals to bypass the Centers for Disease Control, and report directly to Health and Human Services. The transition has caused the lag, according to DSHS’ website.
“There are some smaller communities where the hospital information is not being provided timely,” Governor Greg Abbott said in a live interview with Nexstar on Monday.
Also on Monday, DSHS updated the way it reports its COVID-19 fatalities by identifying them through the cause of death listed on death certificates.
“This method allows fatalities to be counted faster with more comprehensive demographic data. Using death certificates also ensures consistent reporting across the state and enables DSHS to display fatalities by date of death, providing the public with more information about when deaths occurred,” DSHS said in a statement.
The hospitalization data is critical, though, Texas Medical Association president Dr. Diana Fite said.
“We need to know if a hospital is on the verge of not having enough beds whatsoever, whether regular beds or Intensive Care Unit beds,” Fite said.
Modeling experts depend on the data to make accurate projections.
“My largest concern would be that if the data right now we’re getting is missing hospitalization numbers, then we might be projecting a decline in the epidemic, when actually the epidemic is stable or could even be growing, depending on how those data are missing,” associate director of the University of Texas’ Covid-19 Modeling Consortium Dr. Spencer Fox explained.
City health leaders across the state use the information to shape policy decisions, like Lubbock health authority Dr. Ron Cook with the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center explained.
“We manage our workforce, we manage our contact tracing, we manage all sorts of things based on the data that we get, that’s reported to the state,” Dr. Cook said. He added that the discrepancy could also cause confusion, if the lag lasts more than a few days.
“Our citizens of our community, you know, they’re getting one piece of information and the hospital or the clinics are reporting another information,” Cook said. “And when the two don’t meet it, doesn’t it, you know, it puts us at odds with our other people, when we’re trying to get everybody on the on the same ship going in the same direction, about you know, doing social distancing, and face mask and facial coverings are working.”
DSHS has not yet responded to request for comment on the missing data.