Clay Health Dept. Denies Deleting Cases; Says Changing Number Due To Contact Tracing

Jun 24, 2020

Clay County’s recently reported COVID-19 case numbers have been fluctuating in the state’s online database. 

The Florida Department of Health provides daily updates for new cases in the previous 24-hour period. Updates usually come in at around 11 a.m.

From Monday, June 22, to Tuesday, June 23, the total number of cases in the county decreased from 519 to 511, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard. Early Wednesday morning, before the scheduled update, the number dipped again to 508, before then rising to 520. 

According to Heather Huffman, the Clay County Department of Health Administrator, the number of coronavirus cases in Clay County as of Wednesday afternoon sits at 523. 

At the time of this story’s publication, the dashboard still has the total number of cases at 520. 

Huffman said at a Wednesday media conference that the change in case numbers is due to updated information received through the contact tracing process. 

Sometimes it’s a matter of a patient’s address being input incorrectly, causing them to be counted initially in the wrong county. 

“And it gets moved to another county. That case doesn't go away, it gets moved to a different county,” she said. 

Huffman said the DOH is used to having more time to clean up data before it’s pushed out to the public, but with coronavirus, the department doesn’t have that luxury.

The fluctuations come after fired DOH coronavirus dashboard data scientist Rebekah Jones tweeted claims on Tuesday about the state’s allegedly ridding 1,200 cases from its dashboard. 

In another tweet, Jones said anonymous DOH sources were instructed to “change the numbers” and delete deaths to make it look like the state was improving before the Fourth of July. 

Huffman denied those claims in regards to the Department of Health in Clay County.

“At no time are we ever just taking cases off the roll,” Huffman said. 

When asked if she believes the numbers presented on the state dashboard are accurate, Huffman instead pointed to more testing. 

“I believe the state of Florida is testing around an average of 40,000 people a day. That is a large number of people getting tested, and so it has unfortunately taken us a little time to get there,” Huffman said. 

As Duval County has done, Clay County is continuing to stick with a strong suggestion of mask-wearing, choosing not to mandate it in public places.

“It's just difficult to enforce,” said Clay County Manager Howard Wanamaker. “It's a personal responsibility and you caring about the health of someone else to [not] spread that virus. That's really the bottom line and the simple part of it.”

Tuesday night Clay County Commissioners approved a plan to use 25% of its federal CARES Act funding, which totals $9.5 million. In total, the county will receive $28.7 million in funding. 

Troy Nagle, the Clay County information services director, said the first pot of money will go to three core areas: improving facilities for staff and citizens, increasing public safety and Health Department resources, and providing for families, businesses and nonprofits.

Nagle said programs will be rolled out later in the month.

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.