The Red & Black updates its online case tracker every day with the new cumulative total of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Athens-Clarke County and Georgia. If you follow The Red & Black and the Georgia Department of Public Health for coronavirus news, you may notice that daily case and death numbers sometimes differ slightly.
For example, we reported that there were 79 cases on Sept. 2 in ACC, while the DPH reported that there were 80. We are recording the change in the day-to-day cumulative case and death count. To do this, we subtract the day’s cumulative total by the cumulative total from the previous day. This method more clearly shows the increase in cumulative positive cases.
The discrepancies exist because DPH frequently changes the cumulative totals it reports on previous days.
There are a variety of reasons as to why DPH edits its data. DPH spokesperson Nancy Nydam said in an email that the most common problems their data quality team face are “typos, incorrect information entered, incomplete information entered, [and] duplicate reporting.”
Other news outlets face similar issues. Ken Foskett, a senior editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution over the investigative and data teams, said that journalists at the AJC have been unable to get the DPH to explain the data procedures in detail.
“From the very beginning of the pandemic, and this goes back to March, we have had a standing request for DPH data people to sit down with us and explain to us how they collect and tabulate and represent their data,” Foskett said. “And they have not done that.”
However, Foskett believes that slight differences in the data do not matter much in the grand scheme of things. Instead, he believes that readers should look at the trends in the data.
“Our site, their site, there are these fluctuations,” Foskett said. “The most useful thing for your readers’ or for anybody’s understanding is to look at the trends, and the trends are best understood by looking at the rolling averages.”
While we could change our graph to match DPH’s numbers, by keeping the current system, we can more clearly and simply show how case and death numbers have changed each day. It also provides a historical record. If we were to change our previous totals, there might not be any other records of the original reports for the county.