QUESTION: How did Alamance County’s coronavirus infections go from 34 to 86 cases over a single weekend according to figures that the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services posted earlier this week?
ANSWER: A glitch in the state’s coronavirus reporting system has left many people with the mistaken impression that the number of infections in Alamance County had shot up more than twofold over the weekend.
This erroneous inference began making the rounds on Monday when North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services updated its running count of coronavirus cases for each of the state’s 100 counties. In this particular update, the state agency credited Alamance County with a total of 86 “confirmed” infections – more than twice the 34 cases that the county’s own health department had reported on Friday or the 36 cases that it had as of Saturday morning.
Shortly after the state’s update, Alamance County’s health department tried to set the record straight with a clarification on its own Facebook page. According to the local agency’s post, the state’s figure had been inflated by dozens of positive test results that Labcorp had obtained for patients whose geographic locations were unknown to the Burlington-based company.
“Because LabCorp is headquartered in Alamance County,” the health department went on to explain, “when they have positive communicable disease test results with no address listed, the results default to Burlington.”
The health department noted that, as of Monday, the actual tally for Alamance County totaled 39 people who had tested positive for the virus – 21 of whom had already recovered by then.
The health department issued a similar disclaimer on Tuesday when the state failed to correct its inflated tally for Alamance County. The local agency’s second clarification also revealed some additional information about the LabCorp test results which were responsible for the over-count.
“This increase is due to several large batches of LabCorp test results from a federal contract with no addresses listed,” the health department explained in a news release that appeared on the county’s website on Tuesday. “LabCorp, NC DHHS, and [the] Alamance County health department are all working together to remedy this immediate issue and work toward permanent process changes that will reduce the chances of this happening in the future.”
It wasn’t until Wednesday that the health department could confirm that the state had corrected its case count for Alamance County. The local agency added that, as of Wednesday morning, the county’s total tally stood at 43 coronavirus cases. This figure included 25 people who had already recovered from the virus as well as another 18 with active infections – two of whom were being treated in the hospital.