Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey answers questions at a COVID-19 briefing at the Georgia State Capitol.
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Georgia Department of Public Health Commissioner Kathleen Toomey answers questions at a COVID-19 briefing at the Georgia State Capitol.

Georgia’s coronavirus dashboard has seen a number of data reporting issues in recent weeks, but Gov. Brian Kemp is asking Georgians to be patient with the health officials tasked with running it.

“They are taking massive amounts of data from countless sources, putting them into accessible format under a global spotlight all at breakneck speed,” he said. “Please afford them some patience and please steer clear of personal attacks.”

The Georgia Department of Public Health’s data site is supposed to inform politicians and the public alike about the state’s COVID-19 cases and how the state is faring in testing and hospitalizations.

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But recent reports by McClatchy, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and GPB News among others have highlighted a litany of mistakes that have confused observers at best and provided a misleading narrative about the virus’ trajectory at worst.

“I just want people to know they can be confident in the data,” Kemp said. “But also, look, we're not perfect. We made mistakes. When we do that, we'll own that, change it and make sure that people are aware of that.”

This week, it was reported that the state’s total testing number was inflated by adding in antibody tests, which test for previous infection, with the tests commonly used to determine current infection.

Reporters have also highlighted changing case numbers, misleading graphs and other snafus that have been blasted by public health experts and national media outlets.

Dr. Kathleen Toomey said that it was imperative that the health department work to make sure the graphs used to illustrate trends in coronavirus data are accurate and useful for the public.

“This is an unprecedented ask for any public health system,” she said. “At the same time, this is a time when we need the public’s trust and we won’t have the public’s trust unless we can assure them that these data are accurate, timely and do represent what’s going on in the community.”

Toomey also said that the data on the state site is not meant to be the sole source of information guiding public health policy.

“I have said from the very beginning that we are making decisions based on data, science, and the advice of public health officials like Dr. Toomey,” Kemp reiterated. “We are also committed to full transparency and honesty as we weather this healthcare crisis. Georgia families, businesses, local leaders, and the press deserve accurate data.”

Toomey said that new guidance, information and even illnesses are coming in constantly, like reports of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children. In Georgia, nine cases of MIS-C have been reported, Toomey said.

"So, I guess what I'm trying to say is this is unprecedented ask of health surveillance to be this agile and be able to expand this quickly," she said. "We're working diligently. We have a very competent team of skilled, largely-CDC trained epidemiologists meeting many times daily going over these data."

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