On June 1, the state of Texas took over COVID-19 reporting from the individual counties, bringing in between 2,000 and 2,500 healthcare professionals at the state level to help with the takeover.
At the time, Collin County Judge Chris Hill praised the move, “They’re planning on standing up a force of 2,500 people in two days. That’s remarkable.”
The Texas Department of Health and Safety hoped that by taking over of COVID-19 cases, they would be able to provide a greater sense of clarity and order to the process, accounting for every case of COVID-19, and leaving no stone untested. All the while, Collin County had maintained a dashboard on the county website, tracking every case of COVID-19 within its borders, from infection to hospitalization, to recovery or death. The only change was that now, the numbers came to them from the state.
However, the cracks quickly began to show, and Judge Hill began complaining that the state’s estimations weren’t accurate counts. On Aug. 17, the Commissioners voted to put a disclaimer on their dashboard: “Warning: Collin County is providing COVID-19 numbers and data as a convenience to our residents. However, because we have been made aware of inaccuracies in the Department of State Health Services’ reporting, we must advise residents that Collin County has no confidence in the data currently being provided to us.”
Since then, Hill has remained vocal about how inconsistent and outdated the data coming to them has been. “Unfortunately, the reports and case totals continue to be plagued by mistakes and errors,” he posted in August on Facebook. “The Commissioners Court is 100% certain that the COVID-19 data being reported for Collin County is inaccurate.”
A month later, nothing had changed.
“It’s got to be better than this,” Judge Hill told county commissioners in mid-September. “I know that the state has its hands full. And I’m sensitive to that. I’m sympathetic to that. But it has to be better. It can’t be like this.”
Now, five months after the state took over the COVID-19 reporting, Collin County commissioners voted Monday afternoon to remove the error-prone dashboard from the county website. The motion was approved unanimously, though Commissioner Duncan Webb was absent from the meeting.
The dashboard will disappear Oct. 30.
At the commissioners meeting Monday afternoon, Commissioner Darrell Hale wanted to remove the dashboard immediately, arguing that it was no longer relevant. He said he felt that tracking percentages and case numbers had less value now than it did when they were still feeling out the virus and its effects, as if COVID-19 is no longer infecting people.
“We know where we are now,” he claimed.
But Commissioner Susan Fletcher was uncomfortable making such a final decision without input from the public and without Commissioner Webb present. She also argued that the dashboard isn’t costing the county anything to keep it up.
“I feel like it would cause more damage to take it down,” she said.
Instead of removing it immediately, the commissioners decided to wait until the end of the month and put a new disclaimer on the dashboard, informing the public that commissioners had decided to remove it due to “continued inaccuracies.”
Instead of the dashboard, they will be offering a link to the Texas Department of State Health Services COVID-19 website.
“This is a step toward normalization,” Commissioner Hale said, arguing that in his opinion it’s time to treat COVID-19 no differently than the flu.
There is one situation in which Judge Hill could see leading to the dashboard returning. Hill wants the county to take back control of COVID-19 numbers. “The reporting responsibility is one we can handle,” he said. “Taking the numbers and giving to public. I’m confident we can do better than what has been done for us.”
With the exception of contact tracing, which he acknowledges would take a greater staff, Judge Hill says that they could take their COVID-19 reporting back in house. For the moment, because of its fiscal impact, he took that proposal off the floor.
There are two more meetings before Oct. 30, meaning the commissioners have two more opportunities to rescind the decision. Commissioner Fletcher hoped that it gives the public time to respond, should there be “unintended consequences” and time for Commissioner Webb to weigh in.
Judge Hill and Commissioner Hale don’t share her worries, but were willing to accommodate her caution and her concern that the county be transparent about the new change. But Judge Hill boasts that Collin County has been more transparent than any other government body in the state when it comes to COVID-19.
“If anyone wants to say we are being less transparent because we are not sharing the numbers the state provides, I would call them silly, quite frankly,” Judge Hill said. “Here’s the link. You can go get it yourself.”