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What are we missing because of DHHS’s delinquent data reporting?

We have been discussing since May 18 the problem of the NC Dept. of Health and Human Services being last in the nation in reporting death data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By July 21, DHHS under Sec. Mandy Cohen had NC dead last and over a month behind all but two states. By August 5, the situation had still not improved.

North Carolina is still flat dead last in the nation in reporting deaths data to the CDC, and it’s not even close. All but three states and jurisdictions have reported deaths data through August 15. West Virginia and Puerto Rico have reported through August 8. Connecticut has reported through July 18.

Cohen’s agency has reported incomplete information only through July 4six weeks behind nearly every other state and jurisdiction.

This delinquency is not only embarrassing, as if we have chosen a data delivery system featuring horse-drawn wagons and hand-carved tablets, but it could be upending the necessity for the CDC using the Excess Deaths metric.

Here’s how the data are used by the CDC:

The CDC’s Excess Deaths Associated with COVID-19 dashboard is a valuable tool for helping pinpoint an unusual outbreak of deaths in a part of the country, regardless of the reason for the fatalities. It tracks a state’s average number of deaths at a point in time, estimated over a number of years, and predicts the “expected deaths” for that period in the future.

Of course, actual deaths will differ from a statistical prediction of expected deaths. As long as the actual deaths are below a 95 percent confidence interval for expected deaths, the CDC reckons there are no unusual causes of deaths during that period. If actual deaths exceed that threshold, however, those “excess deaths” alert the CDC that there is an unusual cause of death in that jurisdiction.

Thanks to DHHS, we don’t know if there are causes of excess deaths in North Carolina in July and August. I’m using the plural — causes — deliberately.

It’s becoming increasingly evident that there are other potential excess deaths events taking place beyond deaths owing COVID-19. They would be deaths resulting from the isolation, economic stresses, and government restrictions on businesses and individuals in response to COVID-19.

Worse, DHHS’s daily deaths reporting is also infamously dodgy. How can public health officials know if and what kind of health crises North Carolinians are facing — and be able to take action quickly in response — when our data reports are six weeks late?

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

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