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You know what they say about statistics

An apparent weakness in Washington’s coronavirus response efforts bit the governor in his political behind this week, a weakness that has seemed glaring to us for many months.

Perhaps it’s this newspaper’s service area at the ends of four counties that makes it more apparent to us than to some others, but we’ve been battling this state’s clumsy and inconsistent data gathering efforts for a long time. This, in the midst of a fight that depends on good data.

Trying to report on the efforts of public health officials, hospitals, health care providers, and long-term care facilities that comprise the front lines of the battle in local counties can be frustrating enough. Especially when the virus is hot in an area, public health workers certainly have more pressing duties than posting data on websites so journalists can report. So gathering it all from four county systems that don’t necessarily report in just the same way has had its challenges.

But gathering anything from the state’s “data dashboards,” is often a futile effort if timeliness and accuracy are important. We happen to think those two attributes are crucial, for news, for public health in a pandemic, and for treating the accompanying economic heartache.

Last week, the governor took a lot of heat from the counties to our south in the South Central Region of the state when they were the only region left behind in moving to Phase Two of the state’s plan for opening up. That heat included scathing rebukes from local officials and even from Congressman Dan Newhouse.

On Sunday, the Dept. of Health announced there had been a reporting error — on the part of a hospital in that district, they said. Discovering that changed the calculations, allowing the region to move up on Valentine’s Day along with everyone else.

It’s good they found that error, but that won’t change the basis of the cause, which seems to be a patchwork of square-peg reporting systems all trying to funnel information into a round dashboard.

Scott Hunter

editor and publisher


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