COVID-19 · Merced

“Data dump” error held Merced Co. behind in Calif.’s reopening

A trove of testing data held by a laboratory is being blamed for Merced County’s lengthy delay in advancing in Gov. Gavin Newsom’s tiered reopening scheme.

Wednesday, the California Department of Public Health announced the central San Joaquin Valley county would advance into the red tier, the second-most restrictive tier, following months as a purple county with severe restrictions.

For nearly a month, Merced County public officials bemoaned the county’s status in the purple tier while most of the San Joaquin Valley advanced into the red tier, and now shifting into the even-less restrictive Orange Tier.

The culprit for the delay? A dump of testing figures from a local laboratory, Merced County public health officials said.

“While the County had maintained red tier numbers for an appropriate amount of time to move into the State’s less-restrictive red tier, a sudden data dump of positive cases caused by delayed reporting from a laboratory artificially spiked the County’s numbers just prior to moving into the red tier two weeks ago,” the county’s health department said in a statement.

“The data dump was processed as one day’s worth of cases instead of being spread out over more than two weeks.”

Merced County public health officials said the county’s continued languishing under heavy restrictions was reaching a boiling point.

“Remaining in the purple tier yet another week was not an option and we are pleased that the adjudication request was approved by the State,” Public health director Dr. Rebecca Nanyonjo-Kemp said. “That doesn’t change the need to increase the number of people vaccinated because the sooner we reach heard immunity, the faster we’re able to put COVID-19 in the rearview mirror.”

Merced County Board Chairman Daron McDaniel credited public health staffers for finding and flagging the data error.

 “We appreciate the State recognizing this issue and making the change,” said McDaniel. “I would like to thank County staff for identifying this data error and addressing it with the State—being placed in the wrong tier is a disservice to our business community and we owe it to them to get it right.”

Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at