(BIVN) – Grappling with how to safely open tourism to the islands in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hawaiʻi island elected officials are expressing frustration with how some of the case data is being reported.
During an emergency meeting of the Hawaiʻi County Council on Wednesday, councilmembers criticized the way some public health information is presented, and drew attention to the discrepancies between State and County reporting.
“If you look at their map, they have failed to report anything in a lot of our rural communities,” said Hāmākua councilwoman Valerie Poindexter, referring to the zip code areas on the health department’s COVID-19 Dashboard map that are colored grey – indicating “no data” – that have populations of less than 1,000 people. Many of these grey zip code areas are small towns in Poindexter’s district.
“When you tell me about Department of Health, I have no faith in them,” Poindexter told Mayor Harry Kim during the council meeting. “So how are we planning to do a better map than Department of Health is putting out, so that we can truly know where those cases are?”
Puna councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz told the mayor how the State and County numbers don’t match. When she checked the State dashboard that day, the health department was reporting 18 total deaths on Hawaiʻi island since the pandemic began. However, on the same day, the County had reported 37 total deaths.
“Huge discrepancy,” Kierkiewicz commented. “I think that the the confusion and the anxiety and the stress that we are all stewing in stems from the fact that there isn’t clear, simple, accurate, consistent information from all levels of government. It really erodes the trust that we have in people in government that we are expecting to kind of help us navigate this process. So my question is, what can we do to be more proactive in coordinating all levels of government with our messaging so that we can rebuild trust in our community?”
Mayor Kim answered that both the State and the County have previously attempted to explain why there is a difference in the number of reported deaths.
“I really don’t know how to correct it because the hospital would release information in regards to someone dying, so that’s the information we use – what the hospital gives to us,” Mayor Kim explained. “However, Department of Health officially cannot report a person dying from that specific cause, like COVID, until all the death records and confirmation by the doctors are received, and naturally that is sometimes received not until days later.”
It has taken the State over a month to update its death count for Hawaiʻi island.
Puna councilman Matt Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder said he finds the time frame presented on the State COVID-19 dashboard to be problematic.
“28 days worth of information makes it very hard to decipher what’s happening immediately in our county,” Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder said, “so if I was to offer any solution, it would just be – if it’s possible – if we can drop that from 28 days to 7 days or 14 days, so we can start to see a very clear picture of what’s evolving in our community as it’s happening.”
Health officials must have been listening to Kanealiʻi-Kleinfelder’s feedback, because the next day, the DOH began mapping cases by zip code reported in the past 14 days compared to 28 days, as it had done before.
On Friday, the Hawaiʻi Department of Health also began posting new metrics showing average new case trends and test positivity rates. From the State of Hawaiʻi:
DOH is now posting state and county test positivity rates and seven-day average daily new cases with graphs showing trends over the past 14 days at [this webpage].
This newly available data is consistent with national best practices and provides a summary of the level of disease activity and trends in our state and counties.
The new data will be updated daily by noon for positive test results received from the previous day. At this stage of the pandemic, the rolling 7-day average and the test positivity rate are critical for informing our actions and are referred to in plans for reopening and reviving the economy.
The test positivity rate for the state and each county is calculated by dividing the total of new positive tests over the past seven days with the total number of tests conducted over the past seven days. A positivity rate under 5% is favorable.