COVID-19 NC: Missing Data, Face Coverings & Foster Care

Jun 20, 2020

Every Friday,  BPR's Helen Chickering reviews the week’s coronavirus news with NC Health News founding editor Rose Hoban.  This week they discuss the latest COVID-19 metrics, the “have and have-not” impact on  hospital reporting,  possible mask mandate, missing racial data and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on foster care

HC : Let's start with the number of, so it looks like North Carolina will hit 50,000 new COVID-19 cases. sometime this weekend(on Saturday: 51, 389). There's a record number of people in the hospital. Before we hit the record button, you brought up hospital reporting.

I look at the data every day. So first off, we have 871 folks who are currently hospitalized as of Friday, with 91% of hospitals reporting.  Like any good reporter I've developed contacts over the years. They send me information -  “here’s a screenshot of our hospital's dashboard.“ And it's very interesting. You can see how many ICU cases a hospital has or how many COVID patients are on the floor and what I've realized as I'm looking at this type of data that people send me from around the state is that there's definitely( and there always has been but once again it gets revealed) the “haves and have-nots”  in the hospital space,  

 HC: That also seems to be playing out in new case reporting by local health departments and your reporter, Hannah Critchfield has a piece looking at how that impacts state race and ethnicity data.

Absolutely,  I think folks think there's some great computer system and big brother is watching all of us. But when you go to a local county health department, especially in smaller counties,  it's peppered with nurses maybe a couple epidemiologists and they are doing a lot of this stuff on paper. Maybe they have a database within their office and then they have to collate it and send it to the state. And maybe the contact tracers asked about race and ethnicity. And maybe they didn't, it's only in the past week or so that the federal government has required labs like LabCorp or Quest to collect ethnicity and race data on their patients who are getting COVID tests. So that means that about a third of the positive tests that we have in North Carolina - we don't know what race they are or what ethnicity they are.  

HC: We heard a lot about face coverings this week. It seems the word of the week was mask.

It really was. Health secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen even gave a mask demo during yesterday's press availability.   There are some states -  Virginia, New York, California, where if you're out in public, you're required to have a mask with you and there's data coming back. There's German data, there's some data from France. It's looking at how many cases may have been avoided by the fact that everyone wears them.  

HC: You and I both heard during a couple of news briefings, Governor Roy Cooper hinting, a mask mandate may be in the cards for North Carolina.              He certainly was dropping some broad hints. Someone said to him yesterday, why not just make the mandate now, and Cooper came back, and he said, you know, you can't just wave a wand and make a policy happen .  There are lots of things that have to be taken into consideration, but it sure felt like he was about to say that next week we might see a mask mandate.

HC: We've heard a lot about how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting schools,  childcare. This week you have a piece about the impact on something we haven't heard a lot about and that's foster care.                                                                   That story came out of a reader who wrote and said, you know, I've got this foster child, I'm older. We have another child in the household who has a respiratory problem. And the youngest foster child we have is supposed to be going on visits with the family, but we don't have any control over whether this child will be monitored, or will there be masks? Will there be social distancing? I will say, if you read through that story, the thing that everyone has said was a huge success is the tele-visits.   And two separate foster parents that I spoke to said that they jumped on to doing tele-visits with their foster child's biological families. And they said, they went well. The biological families were really happy with them. They got to know one another. There was a level of trust that was created between the foster family and the biological families to the biological family felt more comfortable.  I'm writing a second part to that story, which will run next week, talking about issues with getting new families into the foster care pipeline and some chilling data on the drop in the number of child abuse reports. There's a real worry that there is a hidden epidemic out there of child abuse. That's not being picked up by teachers and pediatricians who would see it as

HC: And what else is your team working on for next week? We've got some other stuff on children, one on kids being lonely.  We've got some more  about the prison system.  . So, we're, we're keeping our eye on a lot of different things

About Rose Hoban: 

Rose Hoban is the founder and editor of NC Health News, as well as being the state government reporter. Hoban has been a registered nurse since 1992, but transitioned to journalism after earning degrees in public health policy and journalism. She's reported on science, health, policy and research in NC since 2005. Contact: editor at northcarolinahealthnews.org