Transparency and integrity when it comes to the collection of COVID-19 data is the number one priority of the Georgia Department of Public Health, according to state health commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey, speaking the wake of a reporting error. Meanwhile, positive tests continue to decline, officials say.

Gov. Brian Kemp praised Toomey and the department’s work during his May 21 COVID-19 briefing at the State Capitol.

Kemp said the state continues to see a steady decline in the number of those testing positive and that there were now fewer than 1,000 people hospitalized around the state. “That’s a 38% drop in hospitalizations since May 1,” Kemp said.

The state has mothballed its surge field hospital at the Georgia World Congress Center, although it could be reconstituted quickly if needed. The facility, which opened in mid-April, only had 17 patients.

Kemp also noted that CVS was opening 23 additional drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites around the state and that the contact tracing program – dubbed Healthy Georgia Collaborative – would have 500 tracers in the field by next week and a 1,000 by June.

Data error

“We are committed to full transparency when it comes to accurate data,” Kemp said. “The public can be confident in the data, but we do make mistakes. We own that.”

“The integrity of data is our number one priority,” Toomey said. “We have to have transparency, and we’re working to improve all of our reporting systems. Having multiple, actionable data is a top priority and so is making it available to the public, media, and agencies.”

Toomey confirmed May 20 that the state’s COVID-19 testing numbers had been inflated by 57,000, or roughly 14% of the tests to date.

According to reporting by the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, the DPH had been including antibody tests, which can detect if someone once had the coronavirus, with tests for active infections. The revelation prompted Kemp’s office to request that the department remove antibody tests from the state’s totals.

Georgia has been under scrutiny for numerous errors in reporting COVID-19 cases to the public over the past month. Toomey said it was an “unprecedented ask” for a health agency to ramp up so quickly to monitor a novel coronavirus, but said that steps were being taken to provide the most accurate data.

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