TEXARKANA, Texas — A change in when Texas reports positive COVID-19 tests is likely to cause "a huge jump in the official case count" Tuesday, according to the state's public health agency.
The Texas Department of State Health Services has been adding to its case count when it receives an official report in Austin, but it will begin reporting cases using the counts posted by counties and local health departments, the agency's Press Officer Lara Anton said in an email.
Some local officials in Texas have been publicly announcing positive COVID-19 test results before DSHS receives an official report, resulting in discrepancies.
That lag likely accounts for a locally announced case of the disease in Cass County that did not appear in the official state tally as of Monday afternoon.
Cass County Judge Becky Wilbanks announced the case during a media briefing Friday at the joint emergency operations center established to centralize regional response to the pandemic. In that case, the virus was spread through community contact, as opposed to being travel-related, she said, adding that DSHS will investigate.
Another cause of discrepancies between local and state counts is local officials reporting cases by where they are diagnosed, rather than by where patients live. DSHS tracks cases by each patient's county of residence and must verify that before assigning a case to a county in the official count.
Morris County Judge Doug Reeder announced the county's first confirmed case of COVID-19 on Sunday, and that case, too, did not appear in the official DSHS count by Monday afternoon.
"It may still take us some time to catch up to counties reporting their first case because there are 254 counties in Texas (and) no standardized place for them to track their case counts," Anton said.
As of Monday afternoon, DSHS had reported 352 COVID-19 cases statewide, resulting in eight deaths. Confirmed cases had been assigned to 46 Texas counties, but 65 cases — more than 18% — had not yet been officially assigned to a county.
In Texas, both a physician who receives a patient's positive coronavirus test result and the laboratory that did the testing must report the result to local health departments. Those departments are required to report positive results to DSHS.
"DSHS limits the amount of information released to the public about specific cases because we have to protect the privacy of the person and more information might reveal their identity in smaller, rural jurisdictions. Sometimes counties get permission from a person to release additional information," Anton said.
Epidemiological investigations are confidential and not public information, according to Texas law.
A spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Health on Monday did not respond to a phone message seeking an explanation of the state's reporting and case-counting protocols.