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Garbage in, garbage out

Tuesday, Oct 13, 2020

* USA Today

Now, confidential statewide coronavirus outbreak data, obtained by the Documenting COVID-19 project at the Brown Institute for Media Innovation as part of a collaboration with the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, shows workplace, school and prison outbreaks are driving the increases – and that many of these outbreaks have never been made public.

The Illinois Department of Public Health, citing a state communicable disease code, does not release details about where many outbreaks have occurred, limiting its disclosures to long-term care and assisted living facilities. Separately, the Illinois Department of Corrections and some county health departments regularly release numbers of infected inmates and prison staff.

But the internal statewide data we obtained – prepared by the state health department and covering four different dates between July and September – gives detailed information and case counts for nearly 2,600 separate outbreaks across Illinois.

* OK, but I’m not sure they have what they think they have. For instance

The single biggest source of coronavirus infections in Illinois are federal, state and county prisons and jails. The Cook County Jail has 1,074 positive cases, the largest count of any single outbreak.

Um, what?

* From Matt Walberg at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office…

From the moment the first positive case was identified in March, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office has been extraordinarily transparent in its reporting on the status of the outbreak and subsequent containment of COVID-19 at the Cook County Jail.

It is absolutely false that we currently have 1,074 positive cases currently. As of Monday, Oct. 12, there were 28 positive cases at the jail, with a current population of more than 5,300.

Since the first confirmed case in March to present, the cumulative number of detainees who either became positive for COVID-19 while in custody or were found to be positive as the entered the jail is 968 as of 10/8/20. (10/8 is the most recent count I have; I will get updated figures tomorrow morning, but it may not be in time for your piece.)

Our staff have worked incredibly hard to institute social distancing measures, limit unnecessary movement, educate on the use of PPE and hygiene, all of which were noted by the CDC as examples for other similar organizations to follow. But to further put the outbreak at the jail in context:

    • From March 1 to Sept. 30, approximately 22,000 individuals were processed by the jail a total of 24,000 times. Of those, approximately 13,300 were admitted into custody 14,300 times. (The larger figures for each category indicate some individuals were processed/admitted multiple times.)
    • Since the advent of rapid testing in late April, approximately 6 out of every 10 cases at the jail have come from newly arriving detainees.
    • Nevertheless, our positivity rate has remained incredibly low to the widespread strategic testing protocols enacted by the Sheriff’s Office and our partners at Cermak Health Services, which provides all medical care for detainees including COVID-19 testing.
    • This low positivity rate has continued despite the fact that our in-custody population has returned to nearly Pre-COVID levels.
    • To date, Cermak staff have administered approximately 13,000 tests to detainees, nearly 80 percent of our current in-custody population has been tested, and the current rolling positivity rate is 0.9%.

These reporters never contacted our office, or apparently ever visit the COVID-19 information page updated each day on our website. If the reporters had reached out to our office prior to publishing, they would have learned that while perhaps IDPH’s data was confidential, the Sheriff’s Office has been sharing our COVID-19 data with the public and the media from the beginning.

Instead, they published an inaccurate report that ignores the incredible success we have achieved in stemming the outbreak and maintaining containment for the past five months. While other agencies have chosen to withhold timely, accurate information about COVID-19 outbreaks, the Sheriff’s Office has been open and forthcoming with its data about the pandemic. Unfortunately, this is yet another example of inaccurate, sensational reporting about COVID-19 at the Cook County Jail.

That makes me think twice about the rest of the data they uncovered, but go take a look anyway, I suppose.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

8 Comments »
  1. - anonymous downstate - Tuesday, Oct 13, 20 @ 10:52 am:

    I read the article and saw the database yesterday, and it seemed pretty clear to me that they were saying the outbreak numbers were cumulative as of 9/30, not that there were currently 1,074 positive cases.


  2. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Oct 13, 20 @ 11:02 am:

    ===and it seemed pretty clear to me===

    Then you have reading issues.


  3. - Watcher of the Skies - Tuesday, Oct 13, 20 @ 11:03 am:

    That Cook County Jail number doesn’t even pass the smell test. 20% of the detainees have COVID-19?

    When you’re about to publish an outrageous number like that, you’d better figure out where the hell your data is coming from and be able to explain it beyond “confidential statewide coronavirus outbreak data.”


  4. - Almost Retired - Tuesday, Oct 13, 20 @ 11:09 am:

    As one who regularly deals with a large amount of data and aggregating that data, I have immediately discounted any validity for any data in the article. I read the article yesterday and had questions about its validity. When one doesn’t call the sheriffs office to verify that the data is accurate or even check the website, one does not know how to deal with and interpret numbers. This was lazy. Some statistic courses as requirements in journalism college majors is needed.


  5. - walker - Tuesday, Oct 13, 20 @ 11:13 am:

    I have been getting a lot of dramatic false data about the Cook Co Jail, spread by a few Chicago “Progressive” groups. Don’t really know how it became the symbol of the times. We have enough real issues with justice reform and COVID control, without overstating them.


  6. - Highland IL - Tuesday, Oct 13, 20 @ 12:17 pm:

    Covid deniers like Paul Schimpf have already latched on to this article like a dog with a bone.


  7. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Oct 13, 20 @ 12:19 pm:

    ===have already latched on to this article===

    Yep. That outfit did real harm by not attempting to figure out and factually explain what they’d found.


  8. - thisjustinagain - Tuesday, Oct 13, 20 @ 12:21 pm:

    Journalists used to be muckrakers, digging through the muck for the facts. Now they pile on the muck, ignoring the facts, or not even bothering to get them. USA today should publish a retraction and an apology for such shoddy journalism, and the reporter(s) suspended.


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