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Bay Area health officials warn actual number of COVID-19 cases possibly higher than reported

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SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KRON) – “But the truth is, that COVID-19 is still circulating widely in our community, and circulating silently,” Dr. Sara Cody said.

Health officials in the Bay Area warn the coronavirus is still here, and could be spreading faster than we realize — that’s as a statewide glitch is clouding the true numbers.

California is reporting 5,200 new cases of the coronavirus in the past 24 hours but more than 200 new deaths.

In the Bay Area, San Francisco and Santa Clara are both reporting more than 200 new cases, Alameda and Contra Costa report more than 100, Solano 80 cases and San Mateo, Napa and Marin counties all have around 20 new cases.

However, every county except San Francisco and Napa have reported at least one new death from  the virus and the numbers could be even higher.

That’s because a technical problem had led to an undercount in cases across the state.

While the latest case numbers indicate the virus is still spreading, again, the numbers might be higher than we think.

The virus is spreading fastest among people under 35 and those in the Latinx community in Santa Clara County. 

With the actual number possibly higher than what is being reported, health officials are urging people to keep their guard up. 

“We don’t know if our cases are rising, plateauing or decreasing,” Dr. Sara Cody said. 

Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody is talking about how data received from the state of California may represent an underreporting of new cases of COVID-19.

“We are very anxious for the issue to get resolved, we expect that all of the numbers are going to go up, to what extent, we don’t know,” Cody said. 

State officials say issues with the electronic lab system are to blame for discrepancies that are making it hard for counties, which rely on the state data, to understand what is happening.

“This lack of data doesn’t allow us to know where the epidemic is heading, how fast it’s growing or not,” Cody said. 

Dr. Cody points out how the county flattened the curve in May only to see a resurgence when shelter orders were relaxed in June.  

The numbers, such as they are, show hospitalizations trending down while the virus is spreading fastest in people under 35 and in the Latinx community.

“Because things were open, people got a sense that they were safe but the truth is COVID-19 is still circulating widely in our community and silently spreading from person to person to person,” Cody said. 

The state says the discrepancies have not led to delays in patients being notified of lab results, which are generally reported directly to health care providers.  

But the state data help’s counties keep their own information up to date. 

The reporting issues have led to speculation the state’s reporting of an overall downward trend in new cases over the past week is suspect.  

Undercounting positive cases impacts testing and contact tracing and makes it hard to decide on a path forward, says Dr. Cody.

“If we see the cases are rising fast, then we may need to put stricter controls in place like we did back in March to really turn it down,” Cody said. 

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