EL PASO, Texas (El Paso Matters) — The city of El Paso announced on Saturday that 356 positive COVID-19 tests dating to late June or early July had gone unreported, the second time in less than a week that the Department of Public Health acknowledged hundreds of unreported positive cases.
On Tuesday, the city announced 325 positive cases that had not been reported. It blamed that error on Honu, a contractor hired by the state of Texas to conduct testing in El Paso.
It did not explain the source of the latest acknowledged error, but many of the missing cases go back before July 15, when Honu took over state testing in El Paso.
The city also announced for the first time Saturday that 108 deaths are under investigation as possibly connected to COVID-19, in addition to 357 deaths already linked to the disease.
These data failures have tremendous potential consequences. The El Paso Department of Public Health has under-reported the impact of a pandemic for several weeks. Families, businesses and other governments — including schools — are relying on that data to make potential life and death decisions.
At the Aug. 4 City Council meeting, City Manager Tommy Gonzalez dismissed the warnings of some unnamed national and international health experts, saying he didn’t believe them “just because they have some degree next to them.”
When city Rep. Peter Svarzbein said he didn’t find such comments helpful, and pointed out that the city had no plans to fill the public health director position that has been vacant since May, Gonzalez fired back at Svarzbein. “So what I’m saying is that we want to be very careful on the local front that we base (decisions) on our statistics, on our information,” Gonzalez said.
At this point, El Paso Matters considers El Paso’s COVID-19 data to be unreliable, so we’re suspending our weekly analysis until the city can demonstrate that it can reliably collect and report important public health data.
This story originally appeared in ElPasoMatters.org.