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VERIFY: Backlog blamed for spike in COVID-19 cases in Harris County

The curve showed numbers that went from 226 COVID-19 cases in Harris County the Sunday before to 13,869 on Monday.

HOUSTON — The Harris County COVID-19 case curve showed a sharp spike on Sept. 19, when nearly 14,000 new cases were added. The KHOU 11 VERIFY team did some digging and found out what caused the spike. 

The curve showed numbers that went from 226 COVID-19 cases in Harris County the Sunday before to 13,869 on Monday.

A few people wanted us to find out why there was a sudden influx of unreported cases all at once and whether there was an error.

Our source for this is Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

“Over the past few months, those backlogs were really collecting, and so our individual workers weren't able to keep up. And we had to figure out a way to automate it,” Hidalgo said.  

Hidalgo said the county’s new automated system began processing that backlog on Monday. Some of the cases were over a month old. Hidalgo said the computer program will help clear the caseloads faster. She explained it is capable of processing 80 percent to 90 percent of them overnight.

“Is it possible to wake up Monday morning and see another 13,000 cases that were backlogged, updated to the system, again?” KHOU 11 Investigates reporter Cheryl Mercedes asked.

“I think it's unlikely, but it's possible,” Hidalgo said.

Hidalgo said that’s because a good 10 percent to 20 percent of the reported cases may contain missing information. Those have to be double checked and uploaded manually to eliminate reporting errors.

“Is this something we should have done earlier? You know, it wouldn't have hurt. We didn't have it wasn't such a big issue until more recently. And frankly, there's just so many issues we have to prioritize,” Hidalgo said.  

So we can verify there was not an almost-14,000 increase in COVID-19 numbers in one day.

The majority of the cases were being reported for the first time because of a backlog and were not new.

Hidalgo did say the county’s numbers are improving, but not enough yet to lower the threat level. She said Harris County will remain in the red, the most severe on its COVID-19 threat level chart, until the positivity rate improves.